“When I get to Washington, D.C., I’m going to stick out my chest and represent the Negroes in Dallas County [Alabama].”
Reverend L. L. Anderson
Traveling to Washington
On buses, trains, cars, trucks, airplanes, and on foot, people traveled from every state. For many, the journey to Washington was as memorable as the day’s events. The organizers had hoped for a diverse crowd and saw their hopes fulfilled. An estimated 250,000 people—united across race, class, and ideological lines, and representing organizations, unions, churches or simply themselves—poured into Washington and onto the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial.
Bayard Rustin entrusted the enormous task of organizing transportation to Rachelle Horowitz, who had worked with him on the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage.
On the steps of the memorial, A. Philip Randolph opened the program and served as the day’s moderator. The program began with an invocation and included music, a tribute to the “Negro Women fighter,” and speeches from six civil rights groups and four supporting organizations.
Acknowledged as the most gifted speaker within the movement, Martin Luther King Jr. had the honor of giving the concluding address. In a day of inspiring speeches, his call for justice stands out as one of the most powerful in American history. His speech echoed the words of the Bible, the Constitution, Lincoln, and the national anthem. He wove together long unfulfilled promises, the injustices of a segregated society, and a vision of a renewed nation. In repeating “I have a dream” again and again, he summed up the aspirations of the march and the demands of the Civil Rights Movement.
In the Crowd
By the end of the day, an estimated 250,000 people participated in the march. They carried signs, sang along with civil rights anthems, waded in the Reflecting Pool, and listened to the speeches. Mostly they came to bear witness, for themselves and their communities, that they would not stand by idly when the rights of so many Americans were being denied. Their presence on the Mall was as powerful a statement as any delivered on the podium.
The Whole World Was Watching
Reporters from around the nation converged on Washington to cover the day’s events. The three national television networks interrupted their daily programming to broadcast the speeches, and a Telstar satellite beamed the coverage around the world. Recording companies quickly packaged the major addresses and distributed them to an eager audience. Long after the crowds returned home, the speeches of the day were heard again and again.
Stars played an important role in supporting the struggle for civil rights from its earliest days. Many threw their support behind the March on Washington. Ossie Davis, Harry Belafonte, Charlton Heston, Marlon Brando, and others organized contingents from Hollywood and New York. They brought to Washington some of the leading film, televisions, and music stars of the day.
Protest music held an essential role in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and on the day of the march. White folk singers included Joan Baez; Bob Dylan; and Peter, Paul and Mary joined with Odetta, Mahalia Jackson, Marian Anderson, and the Eve Jessye Chorus and others to perform throughout the day.