This iconic protest had many fathers. In addition to Randolph and King, the 10 official chairmen of the event included John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Roy Wilkins of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, as well as another labor leader and three religious leaders. The National Council of Negro Women also supported the march, but Randolph and other male leaders refused to include its president, Dorothy Height, in the official leadership. Despite vigorous protest from black women, they insisted that women could be represented by men.
2. The main goal of the march was to eliminate Jim Crow laws.
Marchers demanded equal access to public accommodations, housing, education and voting rights, but in an official list of demands, they also called on federal authorities to create “meaningful and dignified jobs at decent wages” for unemployed workers and raise the minimum wage to a level that would “give all Americans a decent standard of living.”
For many participants, the most important demand was a federal Fair Employment Practices Act banning government agencies, private employers, unions and contractors from discriminating against workers. The act had been a central aim of the civil rights movement since Randolph first envisioned a march — and it was realized with the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
3. The rhetoric of the march was manipulated and softened by white liberals and the Kennedy administration.
This charge was first made by Malcolm X, who famously dismissed the demonstration as a “Farce on Washington,” and taken up by Black Power and New Left activists in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While the March on Washington gained support from liberals — both black and white — and reluctant acceptance from the Kennedy administration, Randolph, King and other activists retained control over its goals and tactics.
When some liberals objected to Lewis’s use of the words “revolution” and “masses,” Randolph dismissed them, saying, “I’ve used them many times myself.” Lewis did agree to add a mild endorsement of President John F. Kennedy’s civil rights bill to his speech and to drop a plea to “burn Jim Crow to the ground.” Objections to such charged language, however, came from Randolph, King and other black leaders who saw it as a departure from the legislative goals and nonviolent principles at the core of the civil rights movement.
4. Media coverage of the “I Have a Dream” speech focused on interracial harmony, overlooking demands for economic justice and full employment.