When I boarded an early-morning bus at New York’s Port Authority bus station on August 28, 1963, to go to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, I had no inkling that this demonstration would be any different than other rallies I had attended in the past. The National Mall was already filling up with people when I arrived there, but I was able to get close enough to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to see the speakers and dignitaries, among whom I recognized NY congressman Adam Clayton Powell, NAACP president Roy Wilkens, and UAW president Walter Reuther.
There were ten speakers that day, starting with March organizer A. Phillip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and ending with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr, who was then president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Always having been a huge fan of folk music, I most vividly remember the musical performers: Mahalia Jackson, Marian Anderson, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Odetta, and Peter, Paul and Mary. I remember that Roy Wilkens announced that W. E. B. DuBois had died in Ghana the previous day, and there was a moment of silence, but with the exception of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which has been replayed so many times over the last five decades that everyone knows it, I can’t recall the specifics of what the speakers said.
However, I do remember the palpable excitement that day, and the feeling of euphoria from standing among 250,000 other Americans who wanted the Kennedy Administration to do more to advance the cause of civil rights and create jobs for the unemployed. Little did we know that less than three months later Kennedy would be assassinated in Dallas and four and a half years later Dr. King would be killed in Memphis.
When I arrived home late that night, my parents excitedly asked: “Do you realize that you were part of a historic event?” Looking back on it fifty years later, I’m very proud to have witnessed that shining moment in history.
- Steve Salemson
FFRF Member and Volunteer