August 28, 1963, 48 years ago this Sunday, will long be remembered as a watershed day in American history, when up to 250,000 people participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It was then that Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Most people present in Washington, D.C. on that epic day believe they can remember what the weather was like. Or can they? This is where the picture becomes a little murky.
The week preceding the great march was relatively pleasant by late-summer D.C. standards, with temperatures staying below 90 degrees. Although rain showers (amount unknown) were noted early in the period, the three days immediately prior to the event were rain free with temperatures in the upper 70s and low 80s, even more pleasant than earlier.
But on the day of the march, if one were to believe various news stories, the combination of high temperatures and high humidity were stifling. Hundreds were seen cooling off by soaking their feet in the Reflecting Pool and at least one person was seen being carried away due to heat exhaustion (or possibly excitement).
In his book, Like a Mighty Stream, Patrik Henry Bass said “some recall the day as one of the hottest of their lives; others thought it was a mild summer day.” Although the images, vividly displayed in a Life Magazine photo-essay, seemed to portray a city sweltering in late summer heat, was that really the case?
According to a National Weather Service spokesman, August 28, 1963, continued the previous trend, with a high temperature of 83 degrees, a low of 63, and no precipitation. Furthermore, dewpoints were comfortably low, staying in the 50s—hardly a late summer D.C. heat wave.
It seems that at least a couple of factors were at work here: the enormous crowd—possibly the largest demonstration, to date, ever seen in D.C.—undoubtedly contributed to the feeling of extreme confinement and exhaustion and, mild as the weather was, many people from more northerly climes were unaccustomed to the D.C. summer.*
All in all, August 28, 1963, was a “day to remember,” not to mention a year to remember, as President Kennedy would soon be assassinated!
If you attended the August 28, 1963 march, or were even living in the D.C. region 48 years ago, what is your recollection of the weather? Let us know and we’ll reveal the results.
*Wrapping up the month of August 1963, weatherwise, it turns out that the average temperature, in keeping with the period around the march, was well below normal, with an average temperature of 75.4 degrees, almost 3 degrees below the current average (which is somewhat higher than 48 years ago.) But even more striking is the fact that 7.21 inches of rain fell—more than double the average amount for August, but little of it falling around march time.
Other notable historic events from August 28, 1963
* It was a pleasant summer day (upper 70s) in New York when, on August 28, 1963, Manhattan police wrongly accused an African-American man of a double homicide and beat him into submission. Known as the “Wylie-Hoffert Career Girl Murders,” the case ultimately resulted in the “Miranda Law,” which requires arresting officers to say “you have the right to remain silent.”
* In Seattle, August 28, 1963, was an equally pleasant August day (also in the upper 70s) when the world’s longest floating bridge-- the Evergreen Point Bridge (now the Governor Albert D. Rosellini Bridge, Evergreen Point) —was opened to the public. The span connected Seattle with areas east of Lake Washington.