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August 25, 2013

The March on Washington: 50 years later

Early Wednesday morning, Aug. 28, 1963, more than 2,000 chartered buses, 21 trains, several chartered airplanes and too many cars to count gathered in our nation’s capital.

We were there for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a massive protest that would draw the largest crowd yet seen in our nation’s capital.

Almost daily, newspaper headlines, radio and television news outlets reported from parts of the southern states how police officers forced dogs to maul children too young to vote and then knocked them down with powerful fire hoses.

It was what we hoped was the last gasp of a system of segregation that denied access to equality to millions of American citizens for no other reason than the color of their skin.

The South was not a happy place for people of color. Americans even witnessed the degrading spectacle of a state governor standing in the doorway of a high school to prevent young brown citizens from attending classes with their white counterparts.

These were sad days for America, and the March on Washington was intended to set things straight.

It was conceived by A. Phillip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and a vice president of the AFL-CIO.

The other leaders of the march were Martin Luther King Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; James Farmer, president of the Congress of Racial Equality; John Lewis, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; Whitney Young, president of the National Urban League; and Roy Wilkins, president of the NAACP.

The reasons for the march varied in degree among the leadership. But there was general agreement that the people had gathered to protest the Kennedy administration’s perceived lack of support for civil rights.

In particular then, as now, there was a great disparity in the number of jobs available for African Americans when compared to those available for whites.

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