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The March on Washington (1963)

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Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963.

African American activist A. Philip Randolph had been fighting for equality since he founded a union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, in 1925. In 1941, he planned a march on Washington to demand jobs for African Americans in the booming wartime economy. That protest was called off after President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed to ban discrimination by defense industries or government.

Two decades later, Randolph decided a march was required to speed the rate of change in the nation. President John F. Kennedy asked that the march be called off, afraid that it would hurt his civil rights bill. Faced with Randolph's determination, however, Kennedy endorsed the protest.

On August 28, 1963, a quarter of a million black and white people -- more than twice as many as had been expected -- marched to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. in a show of unity, racial harmony and support for the civil rights bill. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and other folk singers entertained the crowd before John Lewis of SNCC and others made speeches. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. gave one of his best known speeches, inspiring the assembled crowd with the words, "I have a dream."

Randolph also spoke: "Fellow Americans, we are gathered here in the largest demonstration in the history of this nation. Let the nation and the world know the meaning of our numbers. We are not a pressure group, we are not an organization or a group of organizations, we are not a mob. We are the advance guard of a massive moral revolution for jobs and freedom."

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