The 1963 March on Washington: A Civil Rights Triumph

By Karen Harris
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.