Pacifism and the American Civil Rights Movement Exhibit

Pacifism and the American Civil Rights Movement: A Recognition of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

This exhibit recognizes the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom 

Fifty years ago, on August 28th,  1963, more than 250,000 people gathered peacefully on the Mall in  Washington, D.C., to demand more jobs and meaningful Civil Rights  legislation to benefit all Americans, regardless of race. The event is  recorded as the largest peaceful political gathering in U.S. history, up to  that point. 

During the spring , summer and early Fall of 2013, the Lillian Goldman Law Library has been celebrating the March with an exhibit case of time-lined books and labeled illustrations in our Reading Room; posters in our hallways; a listening station at which to listen to an official recording of excerpts from the speeches delivered at the March; a list of materials on reserve at our circulation desk; and a notebook of facsimiles of working documents created by the organizers of the March. 

The following photographs and reproduced documents (just a few of the items that included in our on-site exhibit) serve to provide a human- scaled record of the tasks involved in putting together an event as complex, effective, and peaceful as the March on Washington.

The idea for a 1963 March on Washington seems to have come from a conversation between A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin during late December 1962. In 1925 Randolph had founded the Brotherhood of Sleepingcar Porters and Maids, then the most powerful black labor union in the United States. In 1941 he had begun to organize a mass march of Negroes on Washington D.C. to protest racial discrimination in war industries, and a then-29 year-old Bayard Rustin had worked for Randolph’s early MOW by writing press releases and speeches, and by raising money, often in nickels and dimes, at meetings of black grass-roots organizations. 


By 1962, Rustin had maintained political ties with Randolph for more than 30 years, while, himself, working for international pacifist organizations, such as the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and the War Resisters League (which Rustin then headed).Rustin’s pacifist employers at FOR had hired him as a field officer in 1941, to help them prevent the outbreak of racial warfare in the United States.  

For more than three decades Rustin, a Quaker, had taught Civil Disobedience and Nonviolence across the United States (and around the world), but especially in the American South. (He had trained Martin Luther King, Jr., in Montgomery in 1956, during the Montgomery bus boycotts.)  He had crafted the working papers for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (which was his idea). In addition, Rustin organized two sizable marches in Washington, D.C., during the 1950s, including the Prayer Pilgrimage of 1957, which acknowledged the third anniversary of the Brown decision. 

Paul Schutzer            Mahalia- Credit Paul Schutzer

(Images by Paul Schutzer)

Within days of the December conversation between Rustin and Randolph, Rustin prepared a rough proposal for a 1963 March on Washington.  He worked with two of his associates from WRL, Tom Kahn and Norman Hill. The draft put focus on 1) economic issues, such as unemployment; 2) racial issues, such as the especially elevated unemployment levels of black Americans; and 3) a major technological issue, automation, which was destroying jobs for all Americans, but especially blacks.  The draft also called for expanded Civil Rights legislation to benefit every American.


[Text: “January 1963 memo” from Bayard Rustin and his assistants, Tom Kahn and Norman Hill, to A. Philip Randolph.  Memo used with the permission of The Estate of Bayard Rustin.]

Randolph found value in the Rustin proposal, and together they decided that the Negro American Labor Council would legitimize the idea by sponsoring it and scheduling the March for mid-June.  Prospects for realizing the March seemed dim, however.  By mid-may only the NAACP had signed-on to the idea, and the Urban League said that it would participate only if it were involved in decision-making.  Moreover the Board of the War Resisters League voted, in April, to reject Rustin’s request for a sabbatical to organize the March, on the grounds that he was needed instead for their international work. 

Media coverage and news reports of three weeks of shocking circumstances in Birmingham, Alabama, during April 1963, gave new life to the idea of a March on Washington. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Birmingham Minister Fred Shuttlesworth had initiated demonstrations in Birmingham, (widely considered the most determinedly segregated place in the American South) against the racially segregated business in the downtown. During 25 days of demonstrations (by thousands of demonstrators) and during hundreds of arrests, the city’s Police Chief, Bull Connor maintained discipline among his officers. Then Dr. King deployed 500 Birmingham high school-age students to march in the city’s downtown.  Connor answered the deployment by using attacking guard dogs and highly propelled fire hosing against the demonstrating young people. Connor’s helmeted police arrested more than 2500 protesters during the first week of May. The Ku Klux Klan exploded bombs near the places where King was staying and where his brother lived.


[Images by Christopher Moore]


In response to the outrage stirred among Americans of all races and the appalled disapproval expressed by media watchers all over the world (at seeing the brute power underlying the system of racial segregation in one Southern American city) President John F. Kennedy moved toward exerting federal authority to address the situation. He called national, state, and local leaders from all parts of the country to Washington, D.C.  He consulted with representatives of church, labor, and civil rights groups.

On June 5, President Kennedy met with Republican leaders to discuss what he hoped would become a bipartisan, comprehensive Civil Rights Bill, and on June 11, Kennedy gave a televised speech in which he announced his civil rights legislation to the nation.

[Image by U.S. News] 

That same day, Governor George Wallace had blocked the door at the University of Alabama (Wallace’s alma mater) when two admitted black students attempted entry. Kennedy had sent 100 National Guardsmen to the scene to assist federal officials, and George Wallace had backed down. [Image by U.S. News] 


 On June 12th  a white supremacist murdered  Medgar Evers, a 38 year old field secretary for the  NAACP (who was attempting to overturn racial segregation at the  University of Mississippi). On June 19, Kennedy submitted his Civil Rights  Bill, HR 7152, to the United States Congress.  In eleven titles, it addressed  voting rights; public accommodations; public facilities; public education;  the Civil Rights Commission; non-discrimination in federally assisted  programs; equal employment opportunities; registration and voting  statistics; intervention and removal of cases; community relations services; and miscellaneous matters. [Image:NAACP] 

In early June, 1963, Andrew Young, a staff member at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, invited Bayard Rustin to Birmingham.  Rustin later said that “The events in Birmingham were more important for organizing [the March on Washington] than me or anything else.” At the time of the Birmingham events, Rustin assessed the meaning of the situation by stating “tokenism is finished …the Negro community is now fighting for total freedom…The Negro masses are no longer prepared to wait for anybody…They are going to move …Nothing can stop them…”

On Tuesday July 2, 1963, leaders of a number of civil rights organizations met in New York City upon the invitation of A. Philip Randolph. Among them were James Farmer of CORE, John Lewis of SNCC, Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy of SCLC, and Roy Wilkins of the NAACP. With addition of Whitney Young and the subtraction of Abernathy, this group came to be known as the Big Six of the Civil Rights era.  Randolph persuaded the Six that a March could be accomplished and succeeded in having himself named director of it.  Over the objections of Roy Wilkins, who had opposed the naming of Bayard Rustin to lead the March, Randolph named Rustin his deputy. (Wilkins objected to Rustin’s youthful experience with the Communist Youth League; Rustin’s WWII Communist Objection and resulting imprisonment; and his arrest in Pasadena California  ten years earlier, for homosexual activity in a park.)  The Board of the War Resisters League released Rustin for a sabbatical, based on Rustin’s argument that nonviolence had become the primary strategic tool of the civil rights movement.

During the following eight weeks, Bayard Rustin and his staff and volunteers, pulled together the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In July, Rustin sent a document entitled, “Proposed Plans for a March” to James Farmer (CORE); Martin Luther King, Jr. (SCLC); John Lewis (SNCC); A. Philip Randolph (BSCP/ NALC); Roy Wilkins (NAACP); and Whitney Young (The National Urban League). These proposed plans included sections on “purpose” and “structure”.  [“Proposed Plans July 2”; Used with permission of the Estate of Bayard Rustin]


The structure set forth in the proposed plans did not put women or women’s organizations in leading roles, 

Anne Arnold Hedgemanexcept by indicating (in “III” of “Structure”) that chairmen would appoint “a woman” to the Administrative Committee of the March.  In fact, in due course, the chairmen appointed Anna Arnold Hedgeman to the Administrative Committee.  Hedgeman (of the United Council of Churches and a former college dean and a former New York City mayoral cabinet member) quickly surmised she had no clout and expressed her displeasures not only to March officials, but also to women in the Civil Rights Movement, outside the structure of the March. [Photo:Anne Arnold Hedgeman]

The omission of women’s organizations from the administrative leadership of the March engendered simmering resentments among African American women who had led important movements, events, clubs, and associations at the foundation of the Civil Rights Movement.  For example, in 1963, Dorothy Height (Photo, left) led the National Council of Negro Women, having previously served in leadership positions with the National YWCA and also with a national black sorority, and Pauli Murray (Photo, right, Bettmann/Corbis) had organized sit-ins in the neighborhood surrounding Howard Law School in the 1940s, as well as served, as a lawyer, as a legal strategist for the preparation of Brown v. Board of Education.

This omission of women (from the July 2, 1963 proposed plans) differed notably from the from the structure Rustin laid out in an outline, handwritten in pencil, that Bayard Rustin drew up in 1956 for a possible March on Washington. In the 1956 document, Rustin called for the creation of a broad, interracial March Committee, which would include women’s groups. Indeed, Rustin himself had previously established successful one-on-one working relationships with activist women, such as British Nuclear Disarmament leader, April Carter. [“Rustin’s outline1956.”  Used with the permission of the Estate of Bayard Rustin. See attachment for full outline]


While African American women negotiated behind the scenes for fair treatment (with Randolph, Rustin, and members of the Administrative Committee of the March) the logistical work moved forward.  By the end of July, Bayard Rustin and his staff issued, from the National Office in Harlem on West 130th Street, their Organizing Manual #1, which provided information to local organizers on a number of topics, including: the sponsors of the March; its purpose; its demands; who is invited to participate; what literature is available to publicize the March; the immediate tasks for organizing groups and organizations; ; how to send funds to the National Office; how to sell buttons; and how to assemble for the March (both at home and upon arrival in D.C.) [Excerpts from Organizing Manual #1: Used with permission of the Estate of Bayard Rustin].

Manual #1 promised that its second edition would appear before August 28th (the actual date for the March) and that Manual #2 would provide final and detailed information.  In fact, the second manual sets forth a system for discipline based on expected conduct of trained captains and marshals, and also offers guidelines for leaving the city of Washington after the March ends.  Rustin, himself, trained the marshals in the techniques of Civil Disobedience and Nonviolence, which he had studied and taught since 1937.  [Excerpts from Organizing Manual #1: Used with permission of the Estate of Bayard Rustin].


As the Manuals #1 and #2 indicated, the sale of flyers and buttons (In D.C., but also in hometowns) raised money for the March. 

A. Philip Randolph raised additional substantial funds from labor leaders, on behalf of their unions; examples included David Dubinsky and Walter Reuther. A limited edition silk-screened graphic, commissioned by the March, raised more than nine thousand dollars. Also, celebrities raised funds by performing at benefit concerts.  Tony Bennett headlined at such a concert, held at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre on August 23rd, 1963. [Imagesused with permission of the Estate of Bayard Rustin.]


On August 25th, Bayard Rustin placed an order with a printer for 100,000 programs. 

By this date, he had withstood an attempt by Dixiecrat Senator Strom Thurmond to have him expelled from his job as Deputy Director, on the grounds that Rustin was a communist and a sexual pervert.  A. Philip Randolph and Roy Wilkins had defended Rustin to the press, and, in his own meeting with reporters, Rustin had successfully argued that Thurmond cared nothing about Rustin’s character, but cared only about stopping the Civil Rights Movement, which Rustin said he could not do. [ “Agreement”; “Communism black power memo”.  Used with permission of the Estate of Bayard Rustin.]

By August 25th, the full Committee of the March, under A. Philip Randolph, had agreed to address the controversial Plans, which had omitted women not only from fully participating in its administrative structure, but also from speaking from the podium, as scheduled speakers, during the Programmed Event. An internal March memo indicates that women were assumed to be unable to choose one spokeswoman, and for that reason, were not offered the opportunity to speak. Male chairmen, however, who now numbered ten, were all scheduled to speak. [“Proposed program” ; “MOW program pages one and four”; “Mow program pages two and three”. Used with permission of the Estate of Bayard Rustin]

To address the absence of women onstage, the March memo indicates that several women were scheduled to provide “inspiration” by singing to the assembled crowd, and a few “Negro women freedom fighters” were scheduled to speak very briefly, among them Montgomery’s heroine Rosa Parks and Little Rock’s advocate Daisy Bates.  

(Bates actually spoke twice, once for Myrlie Evers, who could not attend, and once for herself.) [Images of Rosa Parks and Daisy Bates via The Day They Marched. Johnson Publishing Company, Chicago, 1963.)] 


On August 28th, a huge crowd of 250,000 Marchers gathered at the Washington Monument and marched to the Lincoln Memorial.  On the temporary platform at the Memorial, Committee Members and other platform guests and dignitaries sat in a hierarchical arrangement, based on the size of their perceived previous contribution to the Civil Rights movement, as a donor or as a political actor. Each  platform dweller wore a paper badge on his/her clothing, in one of four colors (yellow, beige, green or purple) to signify his/her rightful place in the hierarchy.


[Scan: “four badges”; Used with permission of the Estate of Bayard Rustin]

John Lewis, speaking at the podium for SNCC, caused a stir when other speakers objected in advance to the pre-printed draft of his address, which used such words as “revolutionary” and “impatient”.  Under pressure from Rustin and Randolph, Lewis mellowed the controversial language,  in order to support the  long-term aims of Rustin and Randolph (to focus on coalition building). [Image of John Lewis; screenshot USIA footage]

Marchers who stood at the back of the crowd on August 28th, have said that the performance by legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson (“I Been ‘Buked and I Been Scorned” and “How I Got Over”), which occurred more than half way through the proceedings, was the memorable occurrence of the day. [Image Mahalia Jackson and Bayard Rustin, screenshot credit USIA].


Of course, history has come to identify the March with Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. [Martin Luther King Jr., screenshot credit USIA]. 

From the podium, close to the end of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Bayard Rustin read aloud the 10 Demands that appear on page three of the printed program for the March.

He also urged marchers to put their names and addresses on an official pledge card and mail it, pre-addressed, to the Harlem national office of the March. (A. Philip Randolph had been scheduled to read the demands and describe the pledge, but he stayed backstage, overcome with emotion.)  In completing the card, signatories promised to commit, personally, to join and support all forms of lawful nonviolent action designed to achieve legislative change. They also promised to arouse that same commitment from friends and neighbors. They promised, finally, to work for social peace through social justice “unequivocally and without regard to personal sacrifice”. [“MOW Program The Ten Demands”; Used with Permission of the estate of Bayard Rustin.; “Pledge Card” Used with permission of the Estate of Bayard Rustin]

Many historians have said that Congress would not have enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, if there had been no March on Washington for Jobs and freedom.  These analysts have indicated, generally, that movements, not political leaders, create political and social change, by persuading political leaders that an impassioned, focused, self-disciplined, politically active  populace, drawn from a broad demographic, endorses the change. The March, historians have argued, provided politicians with visible, living evidence that they could support civil rights and voting rights legislation without risking their political futures.

It is noteworthy that Pauli Murray, (one of the women who protested directly to Rustin and Randolph concerning women activists’ poor treatment at the March) went on to co-found the National Organization for Women, in 1966, along with twenty-seven other women and men.  She and Betty Friedan co-wrote the organization’s mission statement and helped to foster a movement, during the 1970s, that resulted in fundamental legislative, judicial and political change in the lives of American women and, consequentially, change in the lives of almost everyone in the United States.

*To see documents related to the finances of the March on Washington, see attached.
Updated Date: 
Monday, September 30, 2013