Fifty years ago hundreds of thousands of people marched into Washington to demonstrate for civil rights and economic justice. This photo essay commemorates this historic event with plenty of facts about figures you already knew — and a few tidbits of information on the march's unsung heroes as well.
50 Golden Facts to Commemorate the Golden Anniversary of the March on Washington
1. The official name of the event was the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom," but in May of 1963, A. Philip Randolph announced the event as "The October Emancipation March on Washington for Jobs."
2. 1963 marked the centennial anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and Bayard Rustin's prospectus for the march was entitled "The Emancipation March for Jobs."
3. The national headquarters for the organization was located in Harlem, USA.
4. On August 28, 1955, Emmett Till was murdered. The march was held on August 28, 1963 marking the eighth anniversary of the heinous murder.
5. Dr. W.E.B. Dubois, founder of the NAACP, passed away at the age of 95, in Ghana the night before the event. Here is Dubois on the occasion of his 95th birthday meeting with President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana (right) and First Lady Fathia Nkrumah.
6. Malcolm X denounced the march, labeling it the “Farce on Washington."
7. Dr. King gave the original version of the “I Have A Dream” speech to 25,000 demonstrators in Detroit's Cobo Hall Arena on June 24, 1963.
9. President John F. Kennedy, who did not attend the march, was one of millions of Americans to watch the first televised political rally in American history.
10. The full version of the "I Have A Dream" speech is not part of the public domain. Mister Maestro, Inc. and Twentieth Century-Fox Record Company recorded the speech as it was delivered and later offered the recordings for sale. King sued the companies for copyright infringement and won. The King family's copyright control of the full speech includes audio and video versions and expires in 2038.
11. African American event leaders were invited to meet with Kennedy and his administration at the White House after the event. The last time an African-American leader had been invited to the White House was in 1901. President Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington
13. Rustin and A. Philip Randolph had been planning for a large demonstration in Washington for over 20 years. In 1941 they formed the March on Washington Movement. The organization which championed and perfected the strategy of nonviolent civil disobedience in America used the threat of a march on Washington to force President Franklin Roosevelt to sign an Executive Order establishing the Fair Employment Practices Center and ordering the halting of discriminatory hiring practices in the booming national defense industry.
14. The 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom was another precursor to the March on Washington organized by Rustin. 25,000 people attended the event where Dr. King gave his famous “Give Us the Ballot” speech.
15. Rustin was given only two months to plan all aspects of the march, including food and beverages, travel and accommodations for the celebrities, security, program scheduling, and coordinating the activities of the local organizations responsible for transportation and logistics for the tens of thousands expected to attend the event. Rustin brought the event in under budget. March organizers raised $146,917 ($1,121,504 in 2013 dollars) and expenses came to $133,229 ($1,017,015 in 2013 dollars).
16. One of the primary logistical concerns addressed by Rustin was to ensure adequate toilet facilities. Senators Hubert Humphrey and Paul Douglas felt strongly that a lack of chemical toilets would discredit the march. Douglas sent a letter to Rustin saying, “I cannot exaggerate the need for a big supply of these."
17. Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) is the only person alive today that was listed as a speaker on the event program.
18. Lewis was only 23 when he spoke at the event. Lewis was the youngest of the group known as “The Big Six” of the civil rights movement. The Big Six were A. Phillip Randolph, president of The Brotherhood of Sleeping Porters, James Farmer (president of the Congress of Racial Equality), John Lewis (chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), Martin Luther King, Jr. (president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference), Roy Wilkins (president of the NAACP), and Whitney Young (president of the National Urban League).
19. Lewis' speech, which is arguably second only to King's in terms of impact, was heavily censored by the other leaders out of concern that its militant tone would cause problems for the Kennedy administration.
20. James Farmer was arrested while protesting in Louisiana and therefore was unable to attend and give his speech. Floyd McKissick, the first African-American student to attend the law school at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, read Farmer's speech.
21. Charleston Heston, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando, Sammy Davis, Jr, Paul Newman, Burt Lancaster, James Baldwin, Josephine Baker, Lena Horne, Jackie Robinson, and Bill Russell were some of the notable celebrities that attended the event.
22. Ruby Dee and Ozzie Davis shared emcee duty. Davis wrote a skit for the entertainers to perform but it was deemed to be too complicated to pull off on such short notice.
23. Legendary folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary performed “If I Had a Hammer” and “Blowin in the Wind.”
24. Joan Baez led the crowds in several verses of "We Shall Overcome" and "Oh Freedom."
25. Mahalia Jackson, the legendary gospel singer, sang “How I got Over.”
26. Marian Anderson, the first black person to perform at the Metropolitan Opera, sang "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." Anderson was scheduled to sing the National Anthem but did not arrive on time.
27. Camilla Williams, the first African-American to receive a regular contract with a major American opera company, sang in her stead.
28. Bob Dylan and Joan Baez performed a duet of "When the Ship Comes In." Dylan made the controversial choice of singing “Only a Pawn in the Game,” a song that many felt asserted the innocence of Byron de la Beckwith in the murder of civil-rights leader Medgar Evers.
29. Medgar Evers' widow Myrlie was scheduled to speak but could not make it through the crowd.
30. One of the goals of the march was to establish a $2/hour national minimum wage.
31. The march set a goal of restricting government funds from any institution that practiced discrimination. Other goals included full desegregation of the nation's schools and measures to ensure fair and decent public housing.
32. When Rustin assigned Rachelle Horowitz to manage the transportation program, she exclaimed “Are you crazy? I don't know anything about transportation. I can't drive!” Horowitz went on to become the political director of the American Federation of Teachers.
33. Seventeen-year-old high school student Elliot Linzer received the job of a lifetime when he was assigned responsibility for managing volunteers from the United Federation of Teachers.
34. Over 250,000 people attended the peaceful demonstration, most arriving by bus. At its peak, Maryland police reported that 100 buses an hour were passing though the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel on their way to the march.
35. More than 2,000 buses, 21 chartered trains, and 10 chartered airlines were used to transport people attending the march.
36. The government deployed 5,900 police officers, 2,000 National Guardsmen, 4,000 federal soldiers, and 15,000 paratroopers to provide security and law enforcement at the event.
37. Rustin trained 4,000 volunteer fire marshals in the discipline of nonviolent mediation for the event. Many of the volunteers were black police officers from New York City recruited by Rustin to act as liaisons to the D.C. police force.
38. There was such overwhelming concern the event would turn violent that the city's liquor stores were closed for the first time since Prohibition and the city relocated all of the local prisoners to make room in anticipation of mass arrests. No arrests were recorded.
39. Rustin insisted on a state of the art sound system, saying, “We cannot maintain order where people cannot hear.“ The expensive sound system was sabotaged the night before the march. When the operators could not repair the system, Attorney General Robert Kennedy received authorization to have the U.S. Army Signal Corps repair the system.
40. Despite his high-level status as a leading spokesman for civil rights, noted author and gay activist James Baldwin was not granted permission to speak at the event out of fear that his speech would be overly inflammatory.
41. Neither was Rev Fred Shuttleworth, pastor of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama and one of the leading civil rights figures in the country. Less than a month later, on September 15, 1963, Shuttleworth's church, a meeting place for Dr. King and his organization, was bombed and four little girls were killed in the explosion in one of the most notorious acts of domestic terrorism in the history of the Civil Rights movement. Shuttleworth's home was also bombed.
42. Women were not equal partners in the march. In fact there were actually two marches held that day. Women led the march down Independence Avenue, while the men led the march down Constitution Avenue. Dorothy Height, the late leader of the Council of Negro Women, participated in the woman's march as did Rosa Parks. There was virtually no media coverage of the women's march.
43. Daisy Bates was the only woman to actually address the crowd. Her entire “speech” was limited to 142 words. The legendary entertainer Josephine Baker, in military dress, spoke during the preliminary ceremony.
44. Women were not invited to attend the meeting with Kennedy, Johnson, and administration officials at the White House.
45. The March on Washington was a multi-denominational event. Religious leaders who spoke and those who were among the group of leaders who met with Kennedy at the White House included Archbishop of Washington D.C. Patrick O'Boyle, Rabbi Uri Miller (president of the Synagogue Council of America), and Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, Stated Clerk of the United Presbyterian Church of the USA.
46. The American Jewish Congress chartered their own bus.
47. United Automobile Workers union leader Walter Reuther supported the march, spoke at the event, and met with Kennedy with the other leaders of the march. Reuther and Randolph were the only members of the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO to support the march.
48. 12-year-old Edith-Lee Payne's image has been reproduced thousands of times, but her identity was not discovered until 2012.
49. The United States Information Agency produced a documentary of the event that was distributed to all U.S. embassies abroad. The March was produced by the Motion Picture Service Unit of the United States Information Agency for use outside the United States. The film has been digitally restored and is posted on the National Archives YouTube channel.
50. Sixty thousand white participants, labor union participation, and multi-denominational support from organized religion dispelled all thoughts that this was strictly a "black" event.