Celebrating the 57th Anniversary
of the March on Washington
On August 28, 1963 leaders of the civil rights movement spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Their message was carried across the crowd of 250,000 onlookers and broadcast to hundreds of thousands of Americans watching from home. Their words are captured in this booklet, one of the earliest printings of the speeches. They outlined a vision for the nation that inspired generations to come and reshaped conversations about racial justice, conversations we are still having today. Although many powerful speeches were given that day, none are as memorable as Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a Dream” Speech.
Booklet containing speeches from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Dr. Helen F. Nash Collection - St. Louis Mercantile Library
On the last page of the booklet is a list of demands and a pledge for participants to sign.
Many of these demands are the same ones being made today. 
Dr. Helen F. Nash Collection - St. Louis Mercantile Library
King wrote the iconic speech from his hotel room the night before, finishing the draft well after midnight. He pulled from events in American history and the power of historical documents to draw straight lines between promises made and broken to the American people. King’s adviser, Wyatt Walker, urged him not to use the “dream” rhetoric he had used in the past, which Walker called trite and cliché. The theme was not included in King’s prepared remarks, but the following day, as he neared the end of delivering the speech, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted to King “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” In response, King shifted away from his script, and instead spoke from the heart about his dream, creating one of the most defining moments in American history. 

The speech was given as part of March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. While the event happened in 1963, it was originally to have taken place in 1941.
Map of the site plan for the March on Washington.
Dr. Helen F. Nash Collection - St. Louis Mercantile Library
The idea of a mass gathering in Washington, DC to promote racial equality was originally promoted by A. Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and a vice President of the AFL-CIO, and was to have taken place in July of 1941.
Photo of A. Philip Randolph.
Globe-Democrat Collection - St. Louis Mercantile Library
The impetus for this march was the discrimination in workforce hiring by government contractors during the build-up of American Industry for the Second World War. (Mainly due to War and Navy Department-related contracts,) these policies were preventing African-American workers from participating in the new economic opportunities that were coming about due to this increase in spending. Randolph, along with other labor leaders, wanted President Franklin Roosevelt to prohibit companies that were receiving Federal contracts from discriminating against African American job applicants and to integrate the armed forces.

The lobbying paid off when FDR signed Executive Order 8802 that prohibited discrimination in federal vocational training programs and war industries that received federal contracts. This news was communicated to the organizers a week before the march was to take place. With this victory, Randolph and the leaders of the March on Washington Movement kept the organization intact to keep pushing for progress in race relations until the late 1940s.

The March on Washington Movement leadership would mobilize again in the 1950s and 1960s, expanding to include more individuals outside of the original cadre of labor leaders like Bayard Rustin, John Lewis and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. These leaders and the groups they represented were brought together with religious leaders from the white community for the 1963 event that would help push the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act through Congress and onto President Lyndon Johnson’s desk for signature.
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom August 28, 1963,
National Urban League (facsimile of original pamphlet). New York: The League, 1963. 
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