The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
addresses a crowd near the Lincoln Memorial during the March on
Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. On the 50th
anniversary of this historic civil rights event, we take a look back
through rarely-seen color photographs from the day.
Civil rights protesters clap and cheer. An estimated 250,000 people participated in the march.
Leaders of the
rally, including King in the center, interlock hands and arms as they
march. The march was organized jointly by James Farmer, of the Congress
of Racial Equality; Dr. King, of the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference; John Lewis, of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating
Committee; A. Philip Randolph, of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car
Porters; Roy Wilkins, of the National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People; and Whitney Young, Jr., of the National Urban League.
Protesters sing at the march.
A protester sings at the march.
A demonstrator holds a protest sign at the rally.
Musician Odetta Holmes plays a song during the march.
King stands with Rabbi Joachim Prinz, center, by his side.
The crowd cheers during the event.
African-American entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. attends the rally.
Demonstrators crowd together as they listen to civil rights speakers during the rally.
A woman attends the rally.
Actor Burt Lancaster speaks to protesters at the Lincoln Memorial at the event.
Actor Sidney Poitier, left, and Singer Harry Belafonte talk with one another during the march.
Baseball player Jackie Robinson, right, attends the rally with his son David.
A. Philip Randolph, who helped organize the rally, stands in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
leaders from left, Whitney Young Jr., Martin Luther King Jr., Walter
Reuther, Eugene Carson Blake, and John Lewis stand on the steps of the
Lincoln Memorial during the march.
Demonstrators gather around the National Mall near the Lincoln Memorial before the beginning of the march.
(CNN) -- "I have a dream this afternoon that my four
little children will not come up in the same young days that I came up
within, but they will be judged on the basis of the content of their
character, not the color of their skin."
The Rev. Martin Luther
King Jr. spoke these words in 1963, but this was not the speech that
would go down as one of the most important addresses in U.S. history.
King spoke these words in
Detroit, two months before he addressed a crowd of nearly 250,000 with
his resounding "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington for
Freedom and Jobs on August 28, 1963.
Several of King's staff members actually tried to discourage him from using the same "I have a dream" refrain again.
As we all know, that
didn't happen. But how this pivotal speech was crafted is just one of
several interesting facts about what is one of the most important
moments in the 20th century in the United States:
MLK's speech almost didn't include "I have a dream"
King had suggested the
familiar "Dream" speech that he used in Detroit for his address at the
march, but his adviser the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker called it "hackneyed
So, the night before the march, King's staff crafted a new speech, "Normalcy Never Again."
King was the last
speaker to address the crowd in Washington that day. As he spoke, gospel
singer Mahalia Jackson called out to King, "Tell 'em about the dream,
Then he paused and said, "I still have a dream."
Walker was out in the audience. "I said, 'Oh, s---.'"
"I thought it was a
mistake to use that," Walker recalled. "But how wrong I was. It had
never been used on a world stage before."
The rest, of course, is history.
First page of a draft of King's "I Have a Dream" speech (PDF)
Handwritten text on back of "I Have a Dream" typed draft (PDF)
The march almost didn't include any female speakers, either
It was only after
pressure from Anna Arnold Hedgeman, the only woman on the national
planning committee, that a "Tribute to Negro Women Fighters for Freedom"
was added to the official program.
It took further convincing to have a woman lead it.
Daisy Bates spoke in the
place of Myrlie Evers, the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar
Evers. Bates, president of the Arkansas NAACP who played a key role in
integrating schools in Little Rock, told the crowd: "We will walk until
we are free, until we can walk to any school and take our children to
any school in the United States. And we will sit-on and we will kneel-in
and we will lie-in if necessary until every Negro in America can vote.
This we pledge to the women of America."
Baker, an internationally known American entertainer who had moved to
France to find fame, addressed the crowd. Dressed in a military jacket
draped with medals for her contribution to French resistance in World
War II, she spoke in very personal terms about freedom:
"You know I have always
taken the rocky path. I never took the easy one, but as I get older, and
as I knew I had the power and the strength, I took that rocky path, and
I tried to smooth it out a little. I wanted to make it easier for you. I
want you to have a chance at what I had. But I do not want you to have
to run away to get it."
Women had been central
to the civil rights movement -- Diane Nash, Ella Baker, Dorothy Height
and many others -- but were only included in the program that day after
one woman spoke up.
The most prominent white speaker was called the "white Martin Luther King"
Walter Reuther was the head of the United Automobile Workers, which
provided office space, staff and funding for the march in Detroit and
the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He was the seventh speaker listed on the program, and shared his remarks to the crowd.
"We will not solve
education or housing or public accommodations as long as millions of
Negroes are treated as second-class economic citizens and denied jobs,"
In 1998, Time Magazine
included him in its list of Builders & Titans Of The 20th Century.
Irving Bluestone, Reuther's former administrative assistant, shared this
popular story to explain who Reuther was at the March on Washington:
"Standing close to the podium were two elderly women. As (Reuther) was
introduced, one of the women was overheard asking her friend, 'Who is
Walter Reuther?' The response: 'Walter Reuther? He's the white Martin
An openly gay man organized the march in less than two months
Bayard Rustin is "the most important leader of the civil rights movement you probably have never heard of," as LZ Granderson put it in his recent CNN column.
Not only did he organize the march in a matter of months, Rustin is
credited with teaching King about nonviolence. He also helped raise
funds for the Montgomery bus boycott and helped found the Southern
Christian Leadership Council.
During the time, his
sexual orientation was known, and he was often in the background to
prevent it from being used against the movement.
Fifty years after the
march, Rustin, who died in 1987, will be honored with a posthumous
Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in November.
It wasn't the first planned 'March on Washington'
Labor leader and civil
rights advocate A. Philip Randolph had threatened a "March for Freedom"
on the National Mall in 1941 to pressure then-President Franklin
Roosevelt to provide equal opportunity for defense jobs. Randolph hired
Rustin to organize part of the march, which they felt was the only way
to prompt action after numerous appeals.
It worked: The march was
called off after Roosevelt established the Fair Employment Practices
Committee, abolishing racial discrimination in hiring.
The march was a Hollywood star-studded event
Popular actor and singer
Harry Belafonte used his star power to help bring other celebrities to
the March on Washington. Besides reaching out to the stars themselves,
Belafonte went to many of the studio heads in Hollywood to get prominent
actors and actresses temporarily released from their duties so they
He was successful. The
Hollywood list of attendees that day read like a who's who of A-listers:
Marlon Brando, Sidney Poitier, Lena Horne, Sammy Davis Jr., Charlton
Heston and Burt Lancaster, who also gave a speech.
But having the Hollywood
stars there wasn't just for show or for increased media attention. It
also helped calm President John F. Kennedy's nerves about the march.
"I believe that their
presence did a lot to assuage people who were preoccupied with the fact
there could be violence," Belafonte said.
"One of the things that I
said in my conversations with the Kennedys in discussing why they
should be more yielding in their support of our demonstration was the
fact that there would be such a presence of highly profiled artists --
that that alone would put anxiety to rest," he added.
"People would be looking at the occasion in a far more festive way."
One march worker fell asleep during MLK's speech
Back in 1963, college
student Patricia Worthy took a job answering phones for the March on
Washington's planning office. She had 10 phone lines to answer, and they
rang from the time she walked in until she left for the day.
"I recall one day I'll
never forget, I heard someone say, 'Where is this young lady who handles
the phone?' And finally I looked up, and there he was -- Dr. King --
and he said, 'I want to meet this young lady. She has put me on the hold
twice, and hung up on me once, and I want to know who she is.' "
Worthy said she was "so embarrassed," but then the civil rights icon gave her a hug.
By the day of the march,
she was so tired, she dozed off and accidentally slept through the
historic march and the "I Have a Dream" speech.
Everything worked out for her in the end: Worthy had a successful legal career and now teaches law at Howard University.
Another hitchhiked all the way from Alabama only to have MLK check in on him
Robert Avery and two of
his friends hitchhiked nearly 700 miles from Gadsden, Alabama, to
Washington to participate in the march.
Avery, who was 15 years
old at the time, was no stranger to the dark side of the civil rights
movement. A few months earlier, he was struck by a cattle prod wielded
by Alabama police during anti-segregation demonstrations in Gadsden.
The three youths arrived
in the nation's capital a week before the march after three days of
hitchhiking, and they were put to work making signs for the event.
At one point, King
walked in and asked for them. He had been in Gadsden the night before,
and their parents had asked the civil rights leader to check on them.
King sat down with the three and talked to them for about 20 minutes, asking them about their dreams, Avery later recalled.
'I Have a Dream' beat JFK's 'Ask not what you can do' speech
There's no doubt that
King's speech was the most memorable part of the March on Washington.
It's still taught in school, and memorized by children, half a century
But how does it compare
against other pivotal speeches by 20th century leaders, such as John F.
Kennedy or Franklin D. Roosevelt?
Well, a panel of more than 130 scholars got together in 1999 to rate the best speeches of the 20th century and King's speech ranked No. 1.