200,000 Jam Mall in Mammoth Rally In Solemn, Orderly Plea for Equality

August 29, 1963

More than 200,000 persons jammed the Mall here yesterday in the biggest civil rights demonstration in the Nation’s history.

This was the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom”, a one-day rally demanding a breakthrough in civil rights for Negroes.

The demonstrators came by special buses and trains in perfect order. They sang and gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to hear their leaders call on Congress to pass civil rights legislation.

In a mammoth display of fervor, they ended the day by pledging to return to their homes and keep up the battle for full equality by more demonstrations, if necessary.

A. Philip Randolph, director of the march and head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, drew great applause in his remarks at the Memorial when he said this was only the beginning of demonstrations here to gain equality for all.

The ten leaders, representing the top Negro civil rights organizations, organized labor and religious denominations, visited Capitol Hill in the morning.

Top House and Senate leaders congratulated the marchers on their courteous behavior but were chary about saying that the demonstration would help the passing of pending civil rights legislation. House Speaker John W. Cormack (D-Mass.) did go so far as to say that the impact of the orderly demonstration would help the bill.

After the demonstration, the leaders called on President Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House.

President’s Statement

After the White House meeting, President Kennedy issued a statement which he said that such demonstrations for equality are not new nor difficult to understand.

“What is different today is the intensified and widespread public awareness of the need to move forward in achieving these objectives - objectives which are older than the Nation,” the statement said. It concluded:

“The cause of 20 million Negroes has been advanced by the program conducted so appropriately before the nation’s shrine to the Great Emancipator, but even more significant is the contribution to all mankind.”

­The estimate of the size of the crowd was made by Police Chief Robert V. Murray. But no definitive estimate could be made of the number of white participants which numbered several thousands.

A hand count of 1038 persons in a panoramic photograph of the Washington Monument area, where participants gathered before marching to the Lincoln Memorial, showed 718 Negroes and 320 whites- a Negro percentage of 69.1. A similar check of the area around the Lincoln Memorial yielded an almost identical percentage.

Because the people were rallying around an issue that raises emotions, the city had made unprecedented security arrangements, greater than for presidential inaugurations and for visits of heads of state.

But the crowd, which police said was the biggest within memory, was one of the most orderly. They were spirited but serious.

The marchers entered the city in 1514 buses, 21 special and 16 regular trains and on crowded airplanes. Some came by bicycle, motorcycle and scooter. Police were happy that their admonitions against the use of automobiles was for the most obeyed.

The militant but non-inflammatory tone of the demonstration was illustrated by the objections of the other leaders to the prepared speech of John Lewis, National Chairman of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee.

Lewis had intended to scorch the Kennedy Administration and Congress and “cheap politicians” in a highly emotional speech. The other leaders objected to the tone. Earlier the Very Rev. Patrick O’Boyle, Archbishop of Washington, said he would not give the invocation if Lewis went through with his speech.

Lewis toned it down.

1720 Persons Stricken

It was a perfect day for the rally, sunny with a high of 83 degrees. Even so, the emotion and packed conditions took their toll. By late afternoon, some 1720 persons had been treated at the first aid stations and 56 had been taken to hospitals, most of them heat victims.

The day started early. At dawn, while many of the marchers were en route to the demonstration, a 100-block area of Washington had been sealed off for the day.

George Lincoln Rockwell, head of the American Nazi Party, and 74 followers showed up at the Washington Monument grounds despite repeated police requests that he refrain from any counter-demonstration. His group was quickly isolated from the rest of the scene by 200 policemen and National Guardsmen and, after five hours, went home.

The morning rush hour which usually clogs Washington’s streets did not materialize as great numbers of Federal employes stayed home. Those who did found transportation empty and police described downtown Washington, outside the Mall area, as resembling a “Sunday afternoon.”

Business in downtown Washington stores was 80 per cent off. Suburban shopping centers reported a usual Wednesday. Apparently many persons who did not go to work today stayed home and watched the demonstration on television.

Filled by 10:30

By 10:30 a.m., the Washington monument grounds was filled with tens of thousands of demonstrators. There was a forest of placards.

Some had long messages: “We march together, Catholics, Jews, Protestants, for dignity and brotherhood of all men under God now.”

Others were short: “Free in ‘63.”

Near the base of the Monument, a group of 200 young NAACP members from Wilmington, N.C., were clapping and singing Negro protest songs. A legless Negro veteran pushed himself along the Monument walkway and told people he was 74 years old.

On the other side of the Monument, a group from Cambridge, Md., scene of civil rights demonstrations, sang “We Shall Overcome.” Nearby, a peppery group of Negro children from Prince Edward County, Va., which closed its public schools rather than desegregate them, where also chanting and clapping.

Far down at the platform bordering Constitution Ave., singer Lena Horne was introduced and shouted only one word into the microphone: “Freedom!”

A big contingent of United Auto Workers was in evidence, each member wearing a white cap. Many people, by 11 a.m., were already eating their lunches which they had been told to bring with them. They lounged on the Monument grounds, applauded the entertainment and watched. The March from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial started at 11:20, with a sizeable portion of the crowd upsetting program plans by getting in front of the ten March leaders. Some observers saw this as symbolic of the Negro movement for civil rights today: That some of the Negroes are in front of their leaders.

Set a Fast Pace

The leaders set a swift pace down Constitution Ave. There were few onlookers. As the leaders passed the Federal Reserve Building, they waved for an overhead television camera.

AS the leaders turned into Bacon Dr. that leads to the Lincoln Memorial, a man was standing on the corner with a placard solemnly predicting the end of the world this year.

As they neared the Memorial, the leaders clasped hands and sang the theme song of the March, “We Shall Overcome.” The organ at the Memorial was playing “Stars and Stripes Forever” when the leaders walked up the steps and inside where they posed for photographs before Lincoln’s statue.

The Grandest Day

Buses and trains were still coming in at the stations. Jesse Pate of Fayetteville, N.C., a retired railroad chef, got off one bus and exclaimed: “This is the grandest day since Emancipation.: Meanwhile, Union Station was expediting in a very efficient manner the thousands of demonstrators.

By noon, the crowd was pressing against the barriers at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, stretching as far down on both sides of the Reflection Pool, where some weary marchers were bathing their sore feet, and spread out under trees.

The participants heard songs from the Freedom Singers, including “I Want My Freedom Now,” and other entertainers until 1:20 p.m. when the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who helped lead the Birmingham civil rights demonstrations earlier this year, was introduced.

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