March on Washington

The March on Washington on August 31, 1963, involved hundreds of thousands of civil rights marchers who gathered on the Mall near the Lincoln Memorial. The idea for a march on Washington came originally from A. Philip Randolph, the nation's leading black civil rights and labor leader. In 1941 he hoped to pressure the Roosevelt administration to use federal executive power during the war to open job opportunities across industry and government to blacks. Randolph never gave up on the concept and in 1963 he marched with Martin Luther King, James Forman, and others. They intended the March to help convince Congress to pass a civil rights bill. The day featured speeches by civil rights leaders, music by folk singers, and the national anthem sung by black opera singer Camilla Williams, who was born in Danville, Virginia. Television covered the March extensively, making it a national media event. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech was the emotional high point of the day, giving participants and viewers a taste of grand oratory. While King spoke and television cameras broadcast, southern senators and representatives dismissed the March as ineffectual and meaningless. It would not affect, they said, one vote in Congress. The March, however, affected national opinion and may indeed have swayed Northern Congressmen to support the Civil Rights bill.