August 29, 2013

By Xavier Higgs

LAWT Contributing Writer


It was probably the most famous mass rally in U.S. history.

A defining moment in the American civil rights movement came in the midst of the long hot summer of 1963, the  “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” was a pivotal point for social change in America.

The March on Washington transformed the political climate of this nation. A crowd of more than 250,000 people gathered for the largest demonstration ever seen in the nation's capital. The rally at the National Mall included the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who gave his “I Have A Dream” speech.

The march received extensive media attention, including live international television coverage. The mass protest helped strengthen the most critical social legislation in the nation’s history and was followed by the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

1963 was noted for racial unrest and civil rights demonstrations. A nationwide outrage was sparked by media coverage of police actions against protesters in Birmingham, Alabama and the Ku Klux Klan bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church.

Simeon Booker, first black staff reporter for the Washington Post, was a reporter for Ebony and Jet magazine during the march.

“It was a very inspiring experience,” says Booker.

In retrospect he said it was a terrific assignment.

“But it was a very unusual event and momentous occasion,’ said Booker.

In his book, “Shocking The Conscience, A Report’s Account of the Civil Rights Movement”, he remembers the fears that preceded the march was never realized.

Not everybody who attended the march was fully aware of its significance. It's been a 50 years since Elmer B. Redding, 62, who lived in Baltimore was taken by his father to Washington D.C.

At 11 years old, he had no idea about the march until his father insisted on attending.

“It’s a historical event” he needed to see. Redding recalls, “Where there was grass there were people. We push our way as close to the Lincoln Memorial as we could.”

He also remembered hearing Mahalia Jackson singing. 

But as Martin Luther King, Jr. was introduced there was calm that settled over the crowd. “People gave direct attention to what was going on,” Says Redding. He did not understand what was going on.

Carol Redding, 65, Elmer’s wife grew up in D.C says she also “remembers how mesmerize everybody seem to be as Dr. King spoke.

Meanwhile the march highlighted unrealized goals.

Between 1955 and 1962, African Americans were determined through immense campaigns aimed at dismantling segregation, and the demand for federal civil rights legislation. These efforts were stalled due to political avoidance by the John F. Kennedy administration, southern segregationist influence, and northern apathy.

Dr. Terrence Roberts, one of the Little Rock Nine, was 22 years old in 1963. Since the Littler Rock incident in 1957 the country was beginning to see the emergence of the new civil rights movement.

“It was my understanding that this fight for equality had taken on new life,” says Dr. Roberts.

At that time people were beginning to question the status quo and finding new ways of building opportunities for more people.

Although he didn’t understand at the time, he concludes, “racism isn’t the biggest problem. The biggest problem is the advantage taken by people for their own economic benefit.”

He adds that being in Little Rock or Los Angeles didn’t make any difference because the situation was virtually the same.“It was always the have’s, mainly white, and the have not’s, the people of color.”

As it turns out, the march became more of a show of solidarity and hope, and became the impetus of a long line of Americans taking social change to the streets.

Category: News