March on Washington
It was all about the line—the line and the heat. The line was more of a mass, a crowd stretching thick and far from the security gates, where mounted officers patrolled. Everyone was waiting, inching forward, sweating.They were on their way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, an event that has come to stand for the whole of the civil rights movement. But for now, all the talk was about the line, or else the heat.
On the fiftieth anniversary, a look back at Murray Kempton’s September 1963 coverage.
It never happened—but still had more impact than today's reenactment
From the outset, recognition of the fiftieth anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington has been a matter of ratios: congratulation to critique, historical reflection to contemporary concerns. The half-century point is a neat bookmark, a vantage point to assess the inevitable questions of how far we have come and how much further we must go to realize a democratic ideal. Even in the moment the mass mobilization of a quarter million people in support of racial equality had an element of history to it.
The 1963 March on Washington featured just one prominent white speaker. “We will not solve education or housing or public accommodations, as long as millions of Negroes are treated as second-class economic citizens and denied jobs,” declared Walter Reuther, the legendary president of the United Auto Workers. “This rally is not the end, it's the beginning of a great moral crusade to arouse America to the unfinished work of American democracy.” Thus did he confidently link the goals of organized labor to those of the black freedom struggle.