Head to the National Mall any weekend morning, and chances are you’ll find people walking for charity (to cure cancer, ease arthritis pain, stop school bullying) or demonstrating for a cause (pushing to do more to slow climate change, reform immigration laws, ban abortion rights, or keep them). So it’s tempting for those of us who weren’t here on Aug. 28, 1963, to think of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom as just an older version of the same thing.
But the march, 50 years ago next Wednesday, didn’t only provide the setting for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” Nor did it just show Congress how vast the support for meaningful civil rights legislation was, helping to ease the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (and the now-gutted Voting Rights Act of 1965). Originally conceived the year before by Bayard Rustin and A. Philip Randolph, the demonstration also set the standard for the D.C. protest as we know it today; virtually every iconic gathering since then has trod the same ground, taking symbolic power not just from the nearby monuments and memorials, but also from the 1963 march’s legacy.
Washington City Paper wouldn’t begin publishing until 18 years later, so we don’t have our own photos to display to remember the day. So here are a selection of scenes from the day from the National Archives and other public collections. And the next time you see a march on Washington, take a moment to think of the March on Washington.
Click the photo below to start a slideshow: