March on Washington: Unfinished stories

Many of the most recognized photographs from the Aug. 28, 1963 March on Washington feature civil rights icons. But it was the 200,000 Americans who came to Washington who made history 50 years ago, and it’s time more of their names were known and their stories told. The captions offer some clues. Please study these photos and share this gallery. Do you recognize these marchers, and can you tell us more about their lives? Please email us at march@washpost.com.


Here are some of the stories we've learned
Video playlist: Hear the stories of those who attended the 1963 event

Share your story

Did you or someone you know attend the March on Washington? We invite you to share a memory about what it was like to attend. What details about the experience are most memorable? Upload a personal photo, if you have one, to help tell your story.

My story of the March

Did you or someone you know attend the March on Washington? We invite you to share a memory about what it was like to attend.

Here's what others have said...

Here's what others have said...

“I was there as a 15 year old white kid from the suburbs of Boston. I traveled with a family friend to the NAACP headquarters in Boston where we boarded a school bus and rode overnight to Washington. I remember the crowds of people and how hot and humid the day was. We were by the side of the reflection pool as we listened to the speeches amidst the press of the people and I remember how calm and quiet everyone was as the day wore on. As a 15 year old I had no idea I was attending one of the important events in American history.”

Submitted by Timothy Prowten August 28 Share

“I don’t really recall how, but I knew that on a particular weekday, Aug. 28, 1963, there was going to be a march on Washington. I was at work when it really sunk in that the march was happening right now.
I was 18 years old and a summer employee in the mailroom at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, DC. The job was a big deal to me. I rode the bus everyday into the capital. I got off at the BIA on 19th and C streets, NW, and reported to work.
I am white and had attended a segregated high school, Wakefield, so working at the BIA was my first experience of diversity in school or the workplace. My boss that summer, who was also my first boss, other than bosses of my paper-carrier routes, was Charles Jones, a black man. Jones was chief of the mailroom. I was an interoffice liaison (actually a mail clerk) in his employ with the responsibility to sort the mail and pick up and deliver the mail twice a day to the offices in the building. The job only took about four hours each day, and I spent the rest of my time sitting across from Jones, reading the Washington Post with my feet up on the desk.
Jones never said much and was a quiet and gentle man. However, one day I guess he had had all he could take. He said, “Joe, get your feet off the desk!” Well, I jumped like I had been shot, and said, “Yes, sir! Mr. Jones.” I never put my feet back on the desk the rest of the summer.
My co-workers were Native Americans from tribes across the U.S. That in itself was an experience. I worked with young people, straight off the various reservations, living a displaced life in Washington, DC.
When I realized it was the day of the march, I decided to leave the BIA building between my mail runs (interoffice liaison connections) and see what all this was and what it meant.
I stepped out of the BIA and made my way to 16th street. The first thing I saw were black men and women with an occasional white person linked arm in arm forming a row stretching curb to curb across the street. They came row after row after row with no end in sight, and they were in unison chanting a lilting one word song, “Freedom, Freedom, Freedom, Freedom, Freedom!” The melody is in my memory even today, and occasionally over the years I have burst into the compelling chant: Freedom, Freedom, Freedom, Freedom, Freedom.
But standing there, my immediate thought was, this is silly! Aren’t we all free, living in a free country? But I did not turn away, I looked into the faces and eyes of those forming each line, passing as it were in review. I wondered who they were, where they came from, how far was their journey, why were they really here? Each person was different and yet each line was the same with their expressions positive and exuding a pleasant demeanor and a happiness in the moment.
I began to move upstream beside the flow of humanity and walked along the mall all the way to the Capitol. People were lining the street on both sides of the march. Everywhere I saw a sea of people and parked empty buses. I wanted to see everything, to absorb the moment, to try and understand what was going on.
I went from the Capitol back along the mall and wandered among the throngs in the general direction of the Washington Monument looking for where the focus was for this day. I looked at the people individually and collectively, never feeling the least bit uncomfortable as I moved among them until at last I found myself on a rise of ground. So I stood there, literally in the shadow of the Washington Monument on a warm summer’s day, and saw the crowd focused on the men clustered before the microphones toward the Lincoln Memorial.
I listened as the man spoke. I didn’t know what the genesis of his message was, but I had heard enough sermons growing up in a Christian family to know I was hearing a great message, perhaps even a sermon. As I heard the concluding words, I knew what I was hearing would have impact, many aspects of which vibrated with the core beliefs of Christianity: love, brotherhood and sisterhood, equality and freedom for all. Some of the words I remember hearing with great clarity were:
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”
Those words immediately struck a chord for me, because we all have a dream, and part of the foundation of those dreams is our equality before our Creator.
The following kind of jumped out at me as he said, “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” and the remarkable closing words, “And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.’”
He held my attention to his last word. The conclusion of that great speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. brought completeness to my experiences that day, and I returned to the office in time to “quit” and catch the bus home.
It’s been 50 years since I was that impressionable kid delivering mail at the BIA. But the sights, sounds, and emotions of that day have remained with me over the years along with a certain amount of pride in the fact that, as Walter Cronkite would say in his 50s weekly TV show, “You were there.” Yep, me and Forest Gump! I was there!
It was what I call a foundational experience. It was my first experience with black America. It was very positive. In the years that followed, the news often featured things people were doing to change the status of black people in this country. Despite the opinions and prejudices that might have been held by anyone around me at the time, I always saw the black community’s struggle through the lens of that uplifting day in Washington. They were part of America, and they desired freedom.
When Dr. King was murdered, I was upset. It was senseless. He was a powerful, powerful speaker who knew how to use words to great effect. Looking back on it, his speech at the march on Washington was the first time I saw a real bridge between religion and politics. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was basically a pastor and had strong Christian beliefs, and he brought that into the political arena to help accomplish his goals.
Since Dr. King was taken from us, I think the federal holiday that honors him is important. It emphasizes that we can work things out together, that we can see what the problems are and discuss them and come to an understanding. We can do it in a reasonable, rational and nonviolent way – I’d say a Christian way – in stark contrast to the violent activities that seem to be the way that some want to accomplish things. All we can do is pray that they are blessed with pivotal events, where life changes direction, as I was that August day in 1963.

Submitted by Joe Herman August 27 Share

“I was born in 1943 and raised in segregated DC. My parents were Jewish liquor store owners. I went away to college, University of Chicago in 1961, where I was introduced to SDS, SNCC and other progressive student organizations. In spring 1963, I transferred to George washington University. That summer, I lived with my parents.

AUGUST 1963: My memory is not as good as I would like, but I can give you some of my recollections. I followed the organizing of the march with great interest, although I do not remember whether I was involved in any preparations. I may have been involved tangentially with SNCC because I recall being excited about John Lewis's speech and upset about the fact that its most fiery phrases were censored. I made arrangements for a few of my friends from Chicago to stay at my parents' apartment in suburban Maryland. My parents were somewhat frightened about the demonstrations and did not want me to go. The city required that liquor stores be closed that day, so my father was at home.

I left in the morning and took a bus downtown where I joined others who were assembling for the march around the Washington Monument. I was probably with one or two college friends. I remember being struck immediately by the sea of faces and the variety of people and signs: civil rights organizations, labor unions young and old. I believe that the march started somewhat abruptly as we headed toward the Lincoln Memorial. I remember singing, chanting, holding hands with strangers--a sense of great joy and optimism. I reached the Memorial somewhat early and remember watching the program from the left side of the reflecting pool as you face the Memorial. The speeches and songs all blur together for me. I remember Marian Anderson, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul, and Mary and Joan Baez singing. The speeches run together. I'm pretty sure that I heard John Lewis, A. Phillip Randolph and Walter Reuther, although I could not say what any of them, other than Lewis, one of my heroes, said. My memory of Dr. King's speech is particularly fuzzy and it is difficult for me to tease out my memory of the day from fifty years of repetition and reconstruction of the piece. My day ended uneventfully going back home.

The march itself has had a profound effect on me. I continued in movements for racial justice, peace and equality. That day in Washington left me with a sense of optimism about the possibility of real change, a sense that has been challenged in recent years.”

Submitted by Maury Landsman August 27 Share

“We have arrived at the 50th Anniversary of one of the seminal events of our American History – The Civil Rights March on Washington on August 28th, 1963.
I was there, me, a 21 year-old white kid, along with my three of my younger brothers, my sister and her friends Tom and John (all 14), my father who drove, and my friend Ray. We nine piled into our 1957 Plymouth 9-passenger station wagon in Southeast Yonkers, NY, and with no small trepidation on our part (and on our mothers’), headed to Washington DC hoping for the best.
Why were we on this voyage? It is complicated but perhaps best explained by our parents’ example and our religious beliefs that all men are children of God and made in His image and likeness and hence we are all brothers and sisters. Certainly it was not because we lived in an integrated neighborhood. My school, PS 11, had but one African American girl, a talented bassoon player in my band. The oil-man was black, as was the postman, and for a short time we had a black housekeeper, Georgia, when our mother needed help. It is also true that our early public school education taught tolerance as well as good citizenship. I suppose too that my father’s experiences working in the shipyards during WWII and then as a soldier in the Pacific, Okinawa and Japan had a big part in his formation. Add to that the fact that when his father died, this 8 year old was to a large extent raised by the black family maid while his mother went to work.
What also motivated us to go to Washington was the virulent public apprehension and fears being expressed in the press and in public discourse. Even President Kennedy was opposed to the March and discouraged participation in it. It seemed that the establishment wanted the March to be a failure. The media was full of dire predictions that there was going to be violence. Riot police and soldiers were going to be everywhere. Well, it was very important that the March not be a failure and to make that happen it was essential that people of good will, white as well as black, be there to let it be known that fundamental change had to come, not only in laws but in the hearts of all Americans.
So here we were, going down to Washington passing and being passed by scores of buses full of fellow marchers. We all had signs in our windows indicating our mission and this fact elicited friendly honks as well as many unfriendly finger gestures, especially as we got closer to Washington.
And then it happened! We were entering Washington and were on a highway separated from the opposite traffic by a grassy boulevard. We were in the left lane after having recently filled up the gas tank when a local plumbing company pick-up truck pulled alongside. The driver cursed us and flipped the bird, then deliberately cut us off and drove us up onto the median. To our dismay the gas tank was ripped out and lay behind us, gas being spilled all over the place. That we were not killed was a miracle.
Here we were, stranded on the median. What to do? We saw ahead of us a gas station. Having enough man-power, we were able to push the car to the station, where we were told by the black owner that we were only a couple of miles from the march’s staging area and that he would do what he could to fix our car while we joined the March. Off we trudged.
Well you probably know that the March was a grand success. There was no violence and indeed it was one of the most uplifting experiences of my life. Newspaper reports later said that some 250,000 to 300,000 people, maybe more, attended, at least one quarter of whom were white. We sang, chanted “We shall Overcome” and marched together, white hand in black hand. There were prominent among us church groups from all over America. And of course there were the speeches, most famous of which was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s, “I Have a Dream” speech that every school child today should know as well as they know the Declaration of Independence or Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It was a glorious day – despite the hatred we were exposed to on our way there. We knew the fight would continue, as it does today, but there was an inescapable belief that this March marked the turning of the tide – that the day would come sooner rather than later “when a man would be judged by the content of his character rather than by the color of his skin.”
So now it was time to go home – but how? We walked back to the gas station, and “lo and behold” our car was ready! And with a full tank of gas! And with a firm refusal by the owner to accept payment! What a wonderful thing is brotherhood! Let us now on this important anniversary dedicate ourselves to embrace racial brotherhood with all our hearts, keeping in mind what Dr. King said about freedom: “No one is free until we all are free.”

Submitted by Ken Brown, New York August 27 Share

“I attended the March with my aunt on our church bus from our all white suburb of Bethesda, Md. I was fourteen years old. I remember the large crowds and the fact that my aunt put mustard on my bologna sandwich--didn't like mustard then, don't like it now. However, the event may have had more of an effect on me than I realize because today I am an English professor who teaches African American literature.”

Submitted by Claudia Slate August 27 Share

“In August 1963, my paternal grandmother, Hattie Shaw, a domestic worker, took her hard won wages to pay her fare and board with her fierce sisters one of 450 buses that rolled out of Harlem, New York into history. They were joining thousands of like-minded souls who were headed to the nation's capitol for what had been described as a march for social justice, jobs and freedom. These sojourners were determined to demonstrate their belief in and support for civil rights and equality as cornerstones of the American Republic. Hattie, like so many of her social cohorts and blood relations, had suffered a lifetime of indignities by dint of the accident of her birth in a time and in a country that had not reconciled its past practices --social, market and de jure -- on a population that had been used and abused to build this nation into the most powerful political and economic entity on earth.
Arriving in Washington, D.C. five hours after leaving Harlem, Hattie and her sisters fell into step with thousands of others who walked with straight backs and upturned faces down the great National Mall. Standing by the Reflecting Pool in the hot mid-day sun, Hattie heard many speakers talk about the promise of justice and rights for all Americans. She then heard Martin Luther King, Jr. say that the architects of our great republic had signed a promissory note guaranteeing the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to which American were to fall heir. America had defaulted on that promissory note, Dr. King said, but because they believed that the bank of justice is bankrupt, they had come to cash this check.
Returning to New York, Hattie again took up her chores scrubbing floors for and dusting the furniture of well off white employers, knowing that change would surely come... perhaps not in her lifetime, but surely nonetheless. But she had no idea how strong this belief would course through the blood she shared with those of her kin. One of her sisters went on to lead the historic fight in Ocean-Hill Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York for community control and input into the education of black and brown children in the public school system. A high school in Brooklyn bears her name today: The Thelma Hamilton High School.
Hattie wanted to bring her 9 year old grandson, Ted, with her to the march but was not allowed to do so because of his parents' fears of the rumors of violence that were predicted to meet the marchers in Washington, D.C. Ted Shaw is now a nationally recognized civil rights lawyer who has served as Director Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc., has argued a number of civil rights cases before the Supreme Court and who now teaches civil rights law at Columbia Law School. Framed on his office wall hangs the program that Hattie received during event that became known as the 1963 March on Washington. "I think of her every day of my life", he says. "Every day."

Submitted by Vivian Shaw Buckingham August 26 Share

“I was ten years old on the day of the march. I came because both my parents were civil rights activists. I'd walked picket lines with them in 1960 to desegregate Glen Echo Amusement Park.

We arrived at the Mall with another Quaker family from Philly. I remember how hot it was, how I wished we were close enough to the reflecting pool to dip our toes in.

I remember the songs, and those who sang that day, Mahalia Jackson, Odetta, Peter Paul and Mary, the Freedom Singers. I remember Joan Baez leading "Oh, Freedom," and "We Shall Overcome." The songs carried the message of the day.

I was awed by the size of the crowd, and the feeling of celebration. We were young and old, black and white, teachers and students, religious leaders and trade union workers.

I remember hearing Dr. Martin Luther King speak. How his voice , like the voices of the singers, filled me with hope, and a deep, abiding sense that change wasn't only possible, but inevitable.

After the march on Washington, I continued to march, against the war in Viet Nam, for equal rights for Women, for the LGBT community, for Statehood for the District of Columbia, for a Dr. King federal holiday, and many other worthy causes.

I marched again this past Saturday, I'm 60 now, and my 89-year-old mother marched with me. I made a sign that said:
Here in '63.
Back again in '13.
Still marching for
Jobs, Voting Rights, and
to end War, Racism, Poverty.
I still have a dream.

Someone from the media asked what I would say to the young people at the 2013 march. This is what I'd say, "Lasting
change happens from the bottom up. When we organize and speak truth to power, we can move mountains. "”

Submitted by Joanne Rocky Delaplaine August 26 Share

“I was 13 years old in 1963. Although we could not travel to D.C. for the event, we had a march in support the same day in Springfield, OH. We marched from the segregated black YMCA in Springfield, downtown to the City Hall. It really meant a lot to me that several hundred marchers in Springfield took the day to do this.”

Submitted by Emily Lucas August 26 Share

“I remember traveling by charted train from Chicago to Washington with a huge crowd of enthusiastic marchers including my father and my sister. During the train ride radio producer Studs Terkel of WFMT interviewed many people including my father and produced an award-winning documentary "This Train is Bound for Glory". MLK's speech and the whole experience shaped my subsequent life working for international development and social justice. I am very grateful that I was able to participate in such a significant and powerful movement and know there is much more to do.”

Submitted by Mark Schomer August 25 Share

“I had just immigrated from Bolivia and was 14 y.o. In Bolivia, the newsreels showed negroes getting beatup by cops, watered by hoses and torn up by dogs. But I was sure that it was Bolivian communist propaganda. Once I had moved in with my family in S.E. DC, I made it my mission to see for myself what was going on with the negroes. Speaking just a handful of English words, I alone, took a bus to the Mall. It was very emotional and powerful experience. Any pics taken from the Lincoln Mem steps, of the crowd in front of the memorial, you may find me in my GC Murphy's sunglasses, looking in awe, but very confused since I didn't understand a word MLK said. Go figure!”

Submitted by Gerald Roberto Jenkins August 25 Share

“This is the story of one direct outcome of the 1963 March on Washington, to which I went as a member of the Huntington Township Committee on Human Relations in Suffolk County, Long Island.

Just going to the August 28 march was thrilling. Our group took the LIRR into Manhattan, and then boarded one of the trains going to Washington. My clearest memories of the trip itself are, first, the loudspeaker voice reverberating through Penn station: “All aboard for the March on Washington” and, second, seeing the mostly Black railroad workers all along the tracks waving their caps and cheering as the train went by. I still get goose bumps just thinking of that.

The whole day was fantastic, of course, and listening to and watching King and the others, and being among over 200,000 Black and white people who were as one on that day, was surely one of the most inspiring experiences I have ever had.

Shortly after the Washington March our Huntington Human Relations Committee decided to have our own March on Huntington Town Hall to bring a petition asking for the passage of an Open Housing Ordinance for the township. At the time this was a huge issue, as even middle class black people had a very hard time finding housing because of racial discrimination.

Our local march later that year began with a rally at the Huntington RR station. Our main speaker was Bayard Rustin, the organizer of the Washington march, and a friend of the co-chair of our committee.

Only about 300 people were at the rally, and many of us were disappointed. But Rustin, who was a dynamic speaker in the way that King was [in the way that Black preachers are], assured us that we should not be upset. He said that the important thing is to “go with what you got, and build from there”. I can hear his voice now.

After the rally, we started walking up Huntington’s Main Street. It was about 2 miles to the Town Hall. As we walked along, other people – white as well as Black - started to join us. By the time we got to the Town Hall to present the petition, there was a crowd estimated by the police at 2,000 people. Man, was Rustin right.

The upshot was that within a year, the Huntington Town Council did pass an Open Housing ordinance.

It is not likely this all would have happened had it not been for the inspiration of King and the Washington march.

And, yes, I will be at the 2013 March.

--Bob Tripp
Reston, VA
berkeleybob50@gmail.com

Submitted by Robert Tripp August 25 Share

“Yes, I was there. I drove down alone from Philadelphia. Two things stand out in my memory: one, the omnipresence of the UAW. More important, Dr. King's speech. The other speeches went on and on. The weather was hot and humid. Finally it came time for Dr. King. His speech had a different character from the others--it sent a thrill through the crowd: all physical discomfort disappeared. Its result was that one left the event deeply inspired. --Charles F. Woll”

Submitted August 25 Share
End of content.