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10 Things You Didn't Know About the 1963 March on Washington

There were more members of the media at the event than at Kennedy's inauguration

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Getty Images
    Martin Luther KIng waves to supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial 28 August 1963 on the Mall in Washington DC during the "March on Washington" where he gave the famous "I Have a Dream" speech, which is credited with mobilizing supporters of desegregation and prompted the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

    "1963 is not an end but a beginning." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed his dream of racial and economic equality in the United States with his "I Have a Dream" speech. It became one of the most historically significant speeches in American history, alongside Lincoln's 1863 Gettysburg Address and John F. Kennedy's 1961 Inaugural speech.

    An estimated 250,000 to 300,000 people from across the country traveled to the National Mall for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug. 28, 1963. Actor Ossie Davis and his wife Ruby Dee served as master and mistress of ceremonies.

    The March on Washington brought together the Big Six coalition of civil rights groups: the Southern Christian Leadership Conference led by King, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee headed by John Lewis, the National Urban League, the Congress of Racial Equality, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

    You may know that the March on Washington was a call for an end to racial segregation and Jim Crow laws in the South, or that the speeches were said on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and you certainly know King's ringing "I have a dream" refrain.

    But did you know time limits for speeches were four minutes -- and King's speech clocked in at 16 minutes?

    Here are 10 other interesting things you may not have known about the March on Washington:

    1. Organizers sent out different versions of brochures about the March for blacks and whites.

    One of the interns for the march, Elliott Linzer, said, "You're not going to get a whole bunch of whites to catch a bus at three in the morning to go to Harlem or Bed-Stuy, but they will go to Forest Hills or Park Slope."

    2. Numerous celebrities were there, including Bob Dylan, Jackie Robinson, Josephine Baker, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Marian Anderson and Joan Baez.

    The March was the equivalent of the red carpet. It is said that Josephine Baker's manager Phil Randolph wrote to the planning committee, "We trust that Miss Baker's appearance and participation in the 'March' will not go un-noticed and that proper and adequate accommodation at the 'March' will be accorded her."

    A list of Hollywood names was sent to President John F. Kennedy to schedule TV and film meet-and-greets.

    3. Ossie Davis wrote a skit for movie stars to perform, but organizers thought it was too complicated.

    That's not the only things that didn't make it into the program. Selling "NAACP Freedom Bells" as a fundraiser and coordinating Ole Miss "seggies" T-shirts -- designed to upset segregationalists at the University of Mississippi -- for everyone to wear were two suggested ideas that never happened.

    4. Many people passed out from heat exhaustion.

    Writers note that by noon on the day of the march, people became sick from dehydration and the heat. Sylvia Johnson, a 14-year-old girl from Washington, collapsed near the Lincoln Memorial around 12:30 p.m. and a T.V. cameraman wrapped ice in tissue paper to cool her. King comforted her and she left on a stretcher.

    By the days' end, 35 Red Cross stations had treated 1,335 people.

    5. The march was organized in only two months by civil rights activist Bayard Rustin.

    Many people didn't want Rustin to be in charge of the march because he was gay, a former communist and didn't serve in World War II. Labor leader A. Philip Randolph, however, insisted Rustin be the leader. Rustin rented a space for $350 a month in Harlem where he set up the March on Washington headquarters and handled all the logistics.

    Volunteers got just a five-minute break every day. Some brought brown moonshine in Pepsi bottles to work, and people smoked all day in the crammed building.

    Rustin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in August.

    6. The march on Washington cost $29,563 to organize in D.C., including $18,838 for sound equipment.

    Other expenses included $16,626 for printing leaflets and bulletins and $11,277 for printing buttons and pennants. Two-thirds of the money raised came from donations and the selling of souvenirs and tickets.

    7. The number of toilets at the march was a big concern.

    Senators Hubert Humphrey and Paul Douglas sent long letters to organizers to stress the need for enough toilets. Douglas wrote, "Without a good supply of toilets some horrible things will inevitably happen which will bring discredit on the march and marchers."

    8. A Hawaiian songwriter donated 500 orchid leis to major figures at the march.

    9. There were more members of the media at the march than at the Kennedy inauguration two years earlier.

    The Washington press corps hired 1,700 extra correspondents.

    10. King had given his "I Have A Dream" speech before.

    The reverend said the speech to 25,000 people in Detroit a few months before the march. Some portions of the speech were added for the March on Washington.

    President Barack Obama will speak on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington on Wednesday, Aug. 28. 

    MLK Dream March on Washington Anniversary