March on Washington

Nonviolence in History: Sponsored by 

For the first installment of this new, regular collaboration between the Metta Center, Peace Paradigm Radio, and Lokashakti, we focus on the March on Washington, which celebrates its 50th anniversary on Wednesday, the 28th of August.  Coming in 1963 – a full 8 years after the modern US civil rights movement was resuscitated through Rosa Parks’ refusal to comply with segregation on a Montgomery city bus – the March on Washington was a high-water mark for the movement.  It was a moment that would become known, as Martin Luther King, Jr. correctly predicted in the first line of his speech that day, as “the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”  Though there were still movements and successes to follow – 1964’s Freedom Summer, the Civil Rights Act of that same year, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to name a few – by and large it was this demonstration, the 250,000 people who came to the nation’s capital that day, and the millions watching at home on television, that galvanized the country determinedly in the direction of equal rights for all.

Frustrated by failure in places like Albany and encouraged by growing Northern support, the major civil rights groups collaborated in a March on Washington on August 28, 1963 in an attempt to gain federal support for the drive against segregation in the deep South. Bayard Rustin was lent by the War Resisters League to help organize the march with A. Philip Randolph. It was the largest demonstration in American history up to that time: (more than) 200,000 people, including 150 members of Congress. The speeches were more hopeful than angry. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Rosa Parks, SNCC chairperson John Lewis, Rev. Eugene Carson Blake, A. Philip Randolph, Walter Reuther and others spoke of all that needed to be done. Mahalia Jackson, Odetta, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul and Mary sang.

This excerpt is from a book by Robert Cooney and Helen Michalowski called The Power of the People: Active Nonviolence in the United States, published in 1987.  The book is long since out of print, but Robert Cooney has graciously given Lokashakti, whose name in fact means power of the people, permission to post excerpts from it online.  To read more, visit, go to ‘Resources’, then ‘Encyclopedia’, then ‘Movements’.