The March on Washington - Empowerment and Civil Rights
The March on Washington (1963)
1.The march on 28th August 1963
Over 200,000 African and white Americans in Washington DC, USA marched from:
- the Washington Monument to...
- the Lincoln Memorial (pictured right).
It was a peaceful demonstration in support of the civil rights movement
This wanted to end racial discrimination, rooted in slavery and white
bigotry (particularly in the southern states that fought for slavery in the American Civil War,
2. Martin Luther King's speech
King led the march (pictured right taking
His ‘I have a dream’ speech was inspirational - see below.
3. Music and the spirit of the sixties
Protesters were entertained by songs from folk singers:
- Peter, Paul and Mary.
- Joan Baez (pictured right performing with Bob Dylan).
People’s fight for a better world was summed up by two songs:
- Dylan's Times They Are A-Changin’.
- Baez's We Shall Overcome.
Why was the march successful?
1. Martin Luther
King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech (pictured right)
Considered one of the greatest ever speeches, it powerfully uses repetition of its three key phrases:
a) “Now is the time”
Repeated three times, including:
“Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of
b) “I have a dream”
Repeated eight times including:
“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour
of their skin but by the content of their character”.
c) “Let freedom ring”
Repeated ten times leading to the speech’s tremendous ending:
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every
hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men
and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of
the old negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’.
2. Universal appeal
King’s speech referred to:
He did this to appeal to all Americans, white as well as black.
King’s message was more effective because the march was peaceful, following his philosophy of
4. Government support
President John F. Kennedy (pictured right) had
been won over by:
- King’s inspirational
- the justice of the black cause (in the face of brutal white oppression).
Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963.
But his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson:
- was just as committed to civil rights.
- introduced legislation to enforce them (in the 1964 Civil Rights Act).
The blacks had right on their side.
- treated like second class citizens.
- victims of segregation, discrimination and poverty.
In 1960 blacks earned only a half as much as whites and were twice as likely to be
Key events before the march
The Emancipation Proclamation - Abraham
Lincoln (pictured right) declares that all slaves are free.
Ku Klux Klan (a murderous white racist group) formed (pictured right in 1922).
Plessy v. Ferguson – a Supreme Court decision supporting racial segregation.
This was reinforced by the racist and segregationist Jim Crow laws in the southern
The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) formed.
Five black youths (the Scottsboro
Boys) are wrongly convicted of rape.
Robinson (pictured right) becomes the first black professional baseball player (pictured
Brown v. Board of Education – a Supreme Court decision that made school segregation
A black 14-year-old boy, Emmett
Till (pictured right), is brutally murdered by two white men who are acquitted by an all white
Rosa Parks refuses to give up her bus
seat, leading to the successful year long bus boycott by blacks in Birmingham, Alabama, led by Martin Luther King.
Martin Luther King writes his famous
Letter from Birmingham Jail, explaining his vision of achieving racial equality through
non-violent civil resistance.
“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws”, he says.
Key events after the march
1963 (September 15)
A Ku Klux Klan member throws a bomb into a Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four
and injuring 21 black children.
At the girls' funeral, Martin Luther King was right, when he said:
“The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as a redemptive force that will bring new light to this
Today the lives of Birmingham's African Americans have been transformed.
Civil Rights Act bans racial discrimination (President Lyndon B. Johnson is
pictured right signing the Act with Martin Luther King behind on the right)
The African American leader, Malcolm X, is
Martin Luther King is assassinated.
Barack Obama becomes the first black president
(pictured right at his inauguration).
Civil rights heroes
Inspirational supporter of non-violent action – see above.
Ralph Abernathy (1926-90)
King’s best friend and helper (pictured right).
Malcolm X (1925-65)
African American leader (pictured right) who supported black rebellion (“by any means
possible”, he said) and so refused to take part in the Washington March.
He joined a militant Islamic group, the Nation of Islam (also supported by the boxer, Muhammad Ali).
But, just before he was assassinated, he sought non-violent reconciliation with whites after a pilgrimage to
Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-73)
American president (pictured right) who passed the civil rights legislation that gave blacks equal rights (also
supported by his predecessor John F.
Black seamstress ,pictured right in 1955, who sparked off the bus boycott in Birmingham,
Alabama, by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger.
Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-77)
Despite an almost fatal beating by police in 1963, Hamer (pictured right) bravely campaigned for:
- voter registration (when white intimidation stopped many blacks registering to
The American president who fought the American Civil War to free the slaves.
This freedom was given by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
A freed slave (pictured right) who fought for the abolition of slavery along with other abolitionists like
William Lloyd Garrison.
Black leader (pictured right) who fought tirelessly to end racial discrimination.
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868- 1963)
Booker T. Washington’s opponent (pictured right) who believed that blacks should be more aggressive in
their fight for equality.
He died a day before the Washington March.
Key quotes (by Martin Luther King)
Now is the time.
(part of King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech that became the rallying cry of the civil rights movement).
Unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
There comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression (supporting the
Other key quotes
Our objective is complete freedom, justice and equality by any means necessary.
- Malcolm X.
I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.
- Fannie Lou Hamer.
A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave
and half free.
- Abraham Lincoln.
Civil rights music
We Shall Overcome
Sung by the American folk singer, Joan Baez, at the Washington March that became the unofficial
anthem of the civil rights movement.
This musical deals with racism and slavery, including its famous song, Ol’ Man River,
sung by the black civil rights activist, Paul Robeson (pictured right).
Best civil rights films
a) To Kill A
The film version of Harper Lee’s book.
b) In the Heat of the Night (1967)
The film starred Sidney Poitier, the first black movie star (pictured right).
He plays a black policeman who has to cope with his racist colleague (Rod Steiger, also a star
of Dr. Zhivago).
Best civil rights novels
1. Harriet Beecher Stowe (pictured right) , Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852)
This helped to start the American Civil War.
2. Harper Lee (pictured right), To Kill A Mockingbird (1960)
3. Mildred Taylor (pictured right), Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976)