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"The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, August, 2013"

July/August 2013 issue of Poverty & Race

The August 28, 1963 March on Washington was a watershed event in the Civil Rights Movement, and commemorative events are being planned by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and several other national civil rights groups. Check our website after July 15 for the latest information on planned events. In the meantime, we have highlighted some useful historical materials below:

Branch Taylor (1988) Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 (New York: Simon & Schuster)
In this first installment of his seminal three-volume chronicle, Taylor Branch focuses particularly on the ascension of Martin Luther King, Jr. to his position of national leadership, but also weaves in the interacting narratives of key organizations and political figures. See Chapter 22 for an extensive exploration of the March on Washington that highlights contentious political gamesmanship between civil rights leaders, the Kennedy Administration and Congress.

Robinson, Cleveland and Rustin, Bayard (1963) “Organizing Manual No. 2: Final Plans for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” (New York: March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom). (Accessed at:
This primary source, an organizing brochure compiled by the directors of the original March on Washington, provides a telling snapshot of the logistics behind the massive demonstration and documents the marchers’ central political demands and strategies. For those wishing to review other primary sources pertaining to the Civil Rights Movement, the King Center provides a thematically organized and interactive archive of major correspondence, speeches, interviews and articles from the era (see link above).

Civil Rights Movement Veterans. “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” (Accessed at:
This descriptive timeline underscores the internal organizational politics behind the March and the differing philosophies that major organizers and activists brought to the table. Additions are regularly posted.

Goduti, Philip A., Jr. (2013) Robert F. Kennedy and the Shaping of Civil Rights, 1960-1964 (Jefferson, NC: Mcfarland & Company)
Philip Goduti, Jr. profiles Robert F. Kennedy and explores the decisive impact he had on his brother, John F. Kennedy, and the Civil Rights Movement at large. In doing so, Goduti surveys the central political and moral challenges the Kennedy Administration faced in negotiating America’s social landscape and provides a telling “behind-the-scenes” glimpse into the back rooms of Congressional politics during the height of civil rights legislation. See Chapter 18 for an account of Robert Kennedy’s role in shaping both JFK’s civil rights proposal and the Administration’s response to the March on Washington.

Keith, Damon J. (1984) “What Happens to a Dream Deferred: An Assessment of Civil Rights Law Twenty Years After the 1963 March on Washington” (Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 19(2), 469-95)
Thirty years ago, Judge Damon J. Keith (U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit) reflected on the progress that civil rights legislation has made in fulfilling the aspirations expressed during the original March on Washington. Judge Keith focuses on federal legislation and court rulings in the areas of housing discrimination, the desegregation of public facilities, education, and employment.

Weisbrot, Robert (1990) Freedom Bound: A History of America’s Civil Rights Movement. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company)
In this classic retelling of the Civil Rights Movement, Robert Weisbrot highlights the role upper-level leaders and activists played in shaping the movement and the social climate of the time. Chapter 3 focuses on the lead-up to the March on Washington and contextualizes the March in broader currents of social reform and political change.

Austin, Algernon (2013) “The Unfinished March: An Overview” (Accessed at: http://www.unfinished
This report is the first installment of a ten-part project launched this June by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) in order to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Each of the EPI’s reports will highlight the unfinished work of the Civil Rights Movement and outline specific policy proposals to achieve the goal of full racial equality. In particular, the report echoes the March’s often overlooked demands for economic opportunity and explores some of the many economic disadvantages that blacks still experience today, including segregated education, high unemployment, and low wages.

(Resources prepared by PRRAC Policy Intern Jiayan Yu)

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