By D. L. White
An event and date etched forever in the annals of time, was the great March on Washington, August 28, 1963. Many came by train, bus, carpools; some biked their way, others even walked, to join the demand for jobs, peace and freedom.
This massive gathering of humanity, was called and organized by the leaders of national Black organizations including SCLC, Urban League, NAACP, AFL-CIO, SNCC, Sleeping Car Porters (to list a few).
National leaders, Whitney Young, Urban League, Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, president of Morehouse College, Rev. Dr. Benjamin Hooks, president of the NAACP, A. Philip Randolph, Chairman and organizer of the Sleeping Car Porters, James Farmer, Black Farmers/AFL-CIO, David Ruskin – chief organizer, a youthful John Lewis, Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and Dr. M.L. King, Jr,, SCLC and the undisputed leader and voice of the modern era civil rights movement.
It was Dr. King’s thought provoking, idealistic speech “I Have a Dream” that captured the moment. It has long been rumored that Dr. King had another speech in mind until encouraged by the legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson to “tell them about your dream Martin.”
Dr. King obliged and began to tell of an America that did not exist at the time. An America that had not lived up to its creed and heritage that stated all men were created equal and born with unalienable rights – many of which were being denied to those born of African descent in America.
The Fourteenth Amendment provided citizenship and protection under the law to those that had been held in slavery for more than 250 years in America. The Fifthteenth Amendment provided the right to vote, which under Jim Crow laws had been denied since the end of Reconstruction in 1877.
It was estimated a quarter of a million people descended on the National Mall, the area between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
While Dr. King and those responsible for the Great March in 1963 no doubt embraced the numbers and turnout, could there have been more participants – closer to a million plus in the diverse gathering. Aerial views of more recent events such as The Men’s March in 95 and the Women’s March a few years ago, the crowd sizes of those events, said to have been a million plus or more, are comparable to the event in 1963.
Those in power including then President Kennedy, Congress and the nation, would be forced to come to grips sooner with the Civil Rights issue, had it been reported that a million individuals marched in 1963. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Bill in 1964, and in 1965 the Voting Rights Act, as well as an Executive Order to open pubic accommodations, thus clearing the way for discriminatory signs stating Whites only, to come down in public areas including hotels, restaurants, swimming pools and parks.
While the country has made great strides over the last 54 years – electing its first African American president in Barack H. Obama, there is still much to do before we rest, many miles yet to journey in the battle for equality, civil and human rights in this country of the free and home of the brave.