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JOMC 50

 

March On Washington

INTRODUCTION

“History is a culmination of events that shape our future and outstanding leaders who influence our destiny.”
- Professor Melvin Sylvester


The Civil Rights Movement was a movement in which African Americans struggled to gain equality. It was a political, legal and social battle that challenged segregation and racial discrimination. There were a variety of ways in which African Americans fought for their rights such as sit-ins, boycotts, marches and protests.


On August 28, 1963, 10 Civil Rights leaders organized a march on Washington seeking jobs and freedom. They were marching for civil rights legislation that would end segregation and protect the voting rights of African Americans. Matthew Ahman, Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, John Lewis, Floyd B. McKissick, Rabbi Joachim Prinz, A. Philip Randolph, Walter P. Reuther, Roy Wilkins, Whitney M. Young Jr. and Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed more than 200,000 eager supporters at the Lincoln Memorial, in which he delivered his captivating speech about his hope for the future:
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal…I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” (NYT – August 26, 1963)

In this essay, I will examine both the New York Times and the book March on Washington, 1963: Gathering To Be Heard written by Tricia Andryszewski. I will use the publication of the New York Times during the week of August 26th - August 30th, 1963 as my primary source. The book March on Washington, 1963: Gathering To Be Heard will be used as my secondary source.
NEW YORK TIMES AUG. 26 – AUG. 30, 1963 In this section of the paper, I will survey the New York Times on its day-by-day coverage of the event.

Monday, August 26, 1963
The upcoming civil rights march, scheduled for Wednesday, received front-page coverage, but it was minimal. The Vietnam war was a major issue at the time and attracted a lot of attention. The article titled, “Civil Rights Leaders Urge Proud and Orderly March,” written by Nan Robertson, focused on the preparations for the rally and the anticipation of a peaceful demonstration. There was a strong urge for a non-violent protest. The 10 chairman responsible for coordinating the event encouraged participants to be “disciplined and purposeful and to resist the provocations to disorder and to violence.” The chairmen interviewed also described the manner in which the march would take place: “It will be orderly, but not subservient; it will be proud, but not arrogant; it will be non-violent, but not timid; it will be unified in purpose, not splintered into groups and individual competitors; it will be outspoken, but not a raucous.” (NYT – August 26, 1963)

The event was described as “a living petition of the scores of thousands of citizens both races to grant and guarantee complete equality in citizenship to the Negro community.”
The article also addressed any issues or concerns about safety. The story was detailed in its reporting on how many federal officials would be patrolling the event and where they would be posted. There were more than 5,000 National Guard troops, firemen, civilian police reservists and National Park Service Police. There were 24 first-aid stations, with two doctors, four nurses and three hospital aides. The Red Cross provided 46 ambulances and 750 medical personnel. There was also a map illustrating the routes marchers would take from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. (See Fig. 1)

Tuesday, August 27, 1963
There was very little coverage of the march scheduled to take place the following day. The article, found on page 23, reported that President John F. Kennedy would meet with the 10 Civil Rights leaders Wednesday afternoon. It was also reported that President Kennedy would not participate in any other march activities.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002
This day marked a date in history that would forever be remembered. On this day in 1963, the headline read, “Capital Is Ready for March Today; 100,000 Expected.” Reports in the paper stated that even though the preparations were thorough and meticulous, organizers and federal officials were understandably nervous. The main reason for their nervousness was the large number of people that were expected to attend. It was reported that marchers traveled from across the nation to attend this historical event: “The eyes of the nation and the world are focusing on Washington today as an estimated 100,000 or more Americans participate in a one-day rally for a big breakthrough in civil rights. The magnitude of the preparations for the demonstration by the city and the interest of the press exceeds arrangements for presidential inaugurations.” (NYT – August 28, 1963)

The other story, which was also displayed on the front page, was about 500 men and women volunteers who prepared 80,000 lunches for the marchers. This took place at Riverside Church in New York City with volunteers beginning at 3 a.m. working three-hour shifts. They did not finish preparing lunches until 4 p.m. that afternoon.

Thursday, August 29,1963
The bulk of the coverage came the day following the march. One of the many headlines read, “200,000 March For Civil Rights In Orderly Washington Rally; President Sees Gains for Negroes.” The coverage of the rally was extensive and thorough. It recapped the march, the speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr. and its impact.


The articles that summarized the march reported that 200,000 black and white demonstrators were present to hear a “full and speedy program of civil rights and job opportunities.” NYT reporter E.W. Kenworthy described the demonstration as the “greatest assembly for a redress this capital has ever seen.” Figures 3 and 4, found on the following page, are illustrations of the marchers’ assembly at the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.
“They {Civil Rights leaders}saw the march as wrapping up the dreams, hopes,
ambitions, fears and prayers of millions and called on participants to do what
we came to do – place the nation human rights problem squarely on the door
step of the National Congress and of the Federal Government.”
(NYT August, 28, 1963)

Another article in the paper highlighted the 10 Civil Rights leaders. There were also mini-bios about each individual’s accomplishments, as well as excerpts from their speech. Figure 5 includes the portraits of the 10 Civil Rights leaders. One article in particular focused on King and his “I Have A Dream” speech. The article, written by James Preston, reported, “it was King, who near the end of the day, touched the vast audience. Until then, the pilgrimage was merely a great spectacle.” Kenworthy described the speech as, “sending the crowd away feeling that the long journey had been worthwhile.”


The newspaper also covered the president’s meeting with the civil rights leaders. The meeting reportedly lasted for one hour in which they discussed civil rights legislations. The president issued a statement immediately following the rally stating, “the cause of the 20,000,000 Negroes has been advanced by the orderly demonstration conducted so appropriately before the nation’s shrine to the Great Emancipator.” The NYT also published an article about Congress’ reactions to the march. Titled, “Congress Cordial But Not Swayed,” Warren Weaver Jr. reported that more than 200,000 people today “appeared to have left much of Congress untouched physically, emotionally and politically.”


Friday, August 30, 1963
The coverage of the march on Washington dwindled to just one article on this day. It was a follow-up story about the rally and the intentions of the civil rights leaders to continue striving for equal rights. It summarized A. Philip Randolph’s speech urging the 200,000 marchers to “build fires under their congressmen.” It also reported the future plans of the 10 civil rights leaders in the quest for equal rights.

MARCH ON WASHINGTON, 1963: A GATHERING TO BE HEARD
The book, March On Washington, 1963: A Gathering To Be Heard written by Tricia Andryszewski, gives a full account of the Civil Rights Movement leading up to the march on Washington. The book is divided into six chapters: A Dream Deferred, A Growing Movement, Planning the March, The Day of the March, At the Lincoln Memorial and After the March. I will examine and analyze the coverage of this historical event on a chapter-by-chapter basis.

A Dream Deferred
Tricia Andryszewski was able to document African Americans’ struggle for racial equality. She based much of her book on historical facts. The chapter A Dream Deferred focuses mainly on the issue of segregation and inequality. Segregation systematically oppressed African Americans resulting in blacks being treated as second-class citizens. At the time, segregation was protected by the constitution. According to Andryszewski, segregation was not an isolated custom, but it was a “common practice throughout the nation.” African American voting rights was another issue Andryszewski addressed. Even after African Americans were given the right to vote, many white southerners implemented laws that prohibited them from exercising their right. In her book, she quoted South Carolina Senator Benjamin R. Tillman saying, “This is a white man’s country, and a white man must govern it.”

A Growing Movement
In this chapter, Andryszewski focused much of her attention on A. Philip Randolph. He was one of the 10 civil rights leaders who organized the march in 1963. He was reportedly the first to suggest the idea of a march on Washington in 1941. He was an advocate for desegregation and increased job opportunities for African-Americans.
She also provides the reader with information about events in history that led to the march. She discussed the arrest of Rosa Parks and the boycott of buses in Montgomery, Alabama. She also wrote about the sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, the “Freedom Riders” and the landmark case, “Brown v Board of Topeka, in which the Supreme Court ruled, “separate schools for blacks and whites were inherently unequal.”

Planning the March

"Whenever we felt discouraged at the lack of progress in a local
campaign, "someone was bound to say, 'Why don't we just go up
to Washington with as many people as we can muster, and tell
Congress what we want face to face?”

- Ralph Abernathy

There were originally six civil rights leaders who organized the march on Washington. They were referred to as the “Big Six.” They were: Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, Jr., John Lewis, James Farmer, Baynard Rustin and Martin Luther King, Jr. The book gave descriptive bios about the leaders and their many accomplishments.


Andryszewski informed readers about the purpose of the march. The marchers’s goal was to focus Congress’s attention on Kennedy’s Civil Rights Bill. This proposed bill would ban racial discrimination in public facilities, increase protection for African American voting rights and strengthen the federal government’s ability to enforce desegregation of public schools.
Many of the organizers were concerned about the issue of violence. They were particularly worried about the threat radical black Muslims posed, especially Malcolm X, but the Muslims chose not to attend the march. In the book, Malcolm X is quoted as saying, “I am not condemning or criticizing the March, but it won’t solve the problems of the black people.”

At the Lincoln Memorial
Andryszewski reported that marchers arrived via car, bus, train and plane.
“What made the march was that black people voted that day with their feet. They came from every state,” said Baynard Rustin. Famous attendees that Andryszewski was able to account for were Harry Belafonte, Mahalia Jackson, Marlon Brando, Charleton Heston and Jackie Robinson.
The demonstration began at 1:15 p.m. with the singing of the Star Spangled Banner and a prayer by Archbishop O’Boyle. The order of the speech was as follows: A. Philip Randolph delivered the opening speech, followed by entertainment by Bob Dylan. Eugene Carson Blake was the next speaker, then John Lewis, followed by Walter Reuther, James Farmer, Matthew Ahman, and Roy Wilkins, followed by the singing from Mahalia Jackson. Rabbi Joachim Prinz and Martin Luther King, Jr. finished it off. Millions nationwide viewed King’s speech. CBS canceled its regular programming and NBC and ABC canceled its regular programming at the beginning of King’s speech.

 

After The March
This chapter basically summed up the march and the goals achieved by the civil rights organizers. Some organizers felt as if the march did not have a major impact on Congress, but it deeply affected the consciousness and morale of the nation.


CONCLUSION
The NYT’s coverage of the march on Washington was thorough and complete. Even though the march did receive as much coverage as the Vietnam War, the reporting was still substantial. Numerous reporters and photographers were sent to Washington to cover this historical event. On the other hand, much of the coverage was limited to the preparations for the march and the civil rights leaders.


The book, March on Washington, 1963: A Gathering To Be Heard, was much more extensive than the newspaper. Tricia Andryszewski was able to cover the entire Civil Rights Movement, including the events leading up to the march on Washington. Much of the newspaper focused on King’s speech, while Andryszewski wrote about all 10 civil rights leaders and their preparations dating back to 1941. Through research for this paper, I noticed a major difference between primary and secondary sources. The primary source, the newspaper, focused more on the issue at hand and wrote briefly about the African American’s struggle for equality, whereas the secondary source was able to “paint the entire picture.” The book gave a full account of the Civil Rights Movement, the march, and the legacy of King’s historical speech.

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