July 26, 2013
I Have a Dream

Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his "I Have a Dream" speech. (Courtesy The Associated Press)

50 Years Ago in News History: March on Washington

On Aug. 28, 1963, more than 200,000 people from around the country jammed Washington's National Mall in a public demand for jobs, freedom and civil rights legislation for the nation's black citizens. The demonstration, which had been years in the making, was backed by six major civil rights groups.

Media interest was high. Many of the nation's leading dailies, as well as the top black weekly newspapers, the Pittsburgh Courier and The Afro American, sent reporters to cover the march. ABC, CBS and NBC placed 23 cameras between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The Mutual Broadcasting System had 460 people on hand.

Government officials, including President John F. Kennedy, feared that the gathering would erupt in violence. But it was the largest peaceful demonstration in U.S. history at the time.

"There was no violence to mar the demonstration," reported The New York Times the morning after the march. "In fact, at times there was an air of hootenanny about it as groups of schoolchildren clapped hands and swung into familiar freedom songs."

When Martin Luther King Jr. rose to deliver what would become one of the most famous speeches in history, he was the last of 10 people on the program to make remarks. His "I Have a Dream" speech lasted approximately 16 minutes and was frequently interrupted by rousing applause. ABC and NBC broke into their regularly scheduled programming to broadcast King's speech live.

"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," King said. When the speech ended, its impact was widespread and immediately felt.

Kennedy, who was against the march, was reportedly impressed with its orderliness and with King's speech.

"He's damned good," Kennedy said.

The Newseum will mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington with the opening of a permanent exhibit "Make Some Noise: Students and the Civil Rights Movement." The exhibit will explore the new generation of student leaders in the early 1960s who fought segregation through peaceful sit-ins and protests. "Make Some Noise" opens Aug. 2 on Level 4.

The exhibit will feature a section of the original F.W. Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., where in 1960 four African-American college students launched the sit-in movement by refusing to leave their counter stools after being denied service in section designated for whites.

Also featured will be a bronze casting of the Birmingham, Ala., jail cell door behind which King penned his famous "Letter From Birmingham Jail" in 1963.

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