The 1963 March on Washington: A Civil Rights Triumph

By | January 10, 2019

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressing crowd of demonstrators outside the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Source: (Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

The 1963 March on Washington was a civil rights triumph that galvanized a nation, thanks to four simple words from Martin Luther King: "I have a dream." 

The United States was not yet 100 years removed from the Civil War, and the old ghosts of slavery lingered in much of the country, particularly the south. African Americans faced widespread discrimination. State-endorsed segregation, in the form of Jim Crow laws, was still in place. The August 28, 1963, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, as the event was officially known, led directly to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 -- not to mention, it was the setting for one of the most famous speeches in history.

The March on Washington remains a model of effective activism: Its organizers learned from then-recent events, planned a peaceful but attention-getting spectacle, and achieved their goals. And, of course, the event was made even more memorable and effective by Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

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Leading up to the March on Washington

The ongoing racial discrimination and social, economic, and political repression faced by African-Americans in the United States was coming to a head. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, various groups and individuals called for racial equality and demonstrated their views with political protests advocating for the civil rights of African Americans. The nation’s capital was the site of several protests which draw the attention of lawmakers and the media and set the stage for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.