Let Freedom Ring!!! Honoring the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

This Week’s Special Blog Post is written by Tina L. Ligon, Textual Processing Archivist, and Christina Violeta Jones, Textual Reference Archivist.

Known as one of the largest political rallies for human rights in the United States’ history, the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (MOW) is celebrating its 50th anniversary this week. This blog highlights the various civilian and military records housed at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) that pertain to MOW and its significance in American history. For a visual overview, the series Miscellaneous Subjects, Staff and Stringer Photographs, 1961-1974 (National Archives Identifier 541992) has a good selection of photographs highlighting the organizers, civil rights leaders, entertainers, and the diverse crowd who attended the MOW. Most of these images are available in the online catalog.


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At NARA, there is an extensive amount of textual records, photographs, sound recordings, and moving images that depict the excitement surrounding the MOW. These archival materials showcased people from all backgrounds who gathered along the National Mall singing and marching for freedom, civil rights, and equality for all citizens. The select records bring to light the significance of this event on United States history and its impact on Civil Rights legislation. The sound recording March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 08/28/1963 (National Archives Identifier 2839413) is a comprehensive audio recording of the speakers by the Educational Radio Network (WGBH) and the film The March, 1963 (National Archives Identifier 47526) shows behind the scenes planning and organizing for the event. To view this film, click on the following links:

The March, Part 1 of 3 (1964)
The March, Part 2 of 3 (1964)
The March, Part 3 of 3 (1964)

[Added 8/23/13 – for additional information about the film visit the National Archives’ Media Matters’ Making the March blog]

MOW was initiated by several prominent civil rights leaders: A. Philip Randolph (Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters), James Farmer (Congress of Racial Equality), John Lewis (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), Martin Luther King, Jr. (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), Roy Wilkins (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), and Whitney Young (National Urban League). The Production Library Audio Recordings, compiled 1945-1993 (National Archives Identifier 118159) series contains sound recordings on the experiences of these leaders in the Civil Rights Movement. The items include Luncheon for A. Philip Randolph, 08/26/1963 (National Archives Identifier 123316), Interview with James Farmer, President, Congress of Racial Equality and Center for Community Action, 02/11/1966 (National Archives Identifier 126129), The Quiet Warrior Martin Luther King, 12/09/1964 (National Archives Identifier 124276), Distinguished American #6: Roy Wilkins (National Archives Identifier 128285), and Press Conference USA with Guest Whitney Young, 05/06/1967 (National Archives Identifier 128551).


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Activist Bayard Rustin was a key figure in planning the MOW. His organizational skills were instrumental in the coordination and implementation of the march. He was an advisor to Dr. King in the 1950s and 1960s, and actively involved with pacifist groups and early civil rights protests. NARA has several sound recordings of interviews with Rustin, including Focus on Bayard Rustin (National Archives Identifier 2812560), Bayard Rustin, 11/18/1967 (National Archives Identifier 129504), and Perspective #334: A Conversation with Bayard Rustin, 10/29/1969 (National Archives Identifier 132969).


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On August 28, 1963, 200,000 to 300,000 individuals convened in Washington D. C. to hear civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech that advocated and called for racial harmony in the United States. NARA has the sound recording for the “I Have a Dream Speech” in the John R. Hickman Audio Collection (National Archives Identifier 1436726). Additionally, there are the Universal Newsreel Volume 36, Release 71, 08/29/1963 (National Archives Identifier 2050667) that gives a pictorial perspective of the event and the Department of Justice’s Class 144 (Civil Rights) Litigation Case Files series (National Archives Identifier 603432) [case file #144-16-574] that provides background information into concerns surrounding the march.


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[Added August 28, 2013 – check out NDC Blog on “Martin Luther King, Integrationist”]

Often lost in the history of MOW are the contributions and organizational efforts of women. Entertainer Josephine Baker gave a speech during the preliminary offerings of the march and Dorothy I. Height stood among male leaders on stage when Dr. King made his “I Have a Dream” speech. Myrlie Evers was scheduled to give a tribute to “Negro Women Fighters for Freedom,” but was unable to attend. Bayard Rustin gave the tribute in Evers’ absence and introduced freedom fighters Daisy Bates, Diane Nash, Rosa Parks, and Gloria Richardson to the marchers. NARA holdings have several photographs of women who participated in MOW.


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The success of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was credited with helping to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

*Researchers who want to find records on the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom should start with the National Archives’ Catalog database.


*Researchers should note that with DOJ and FBI case files, records must be screened for personal privacy and law enforcement information under 5 U.S.C. 552(b) prior to public release. Some documents remain classified in whole or in part. Access to some case file subjects requires a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the FBI.

Additional Resources from the John F. Kennedy Library Archives:

Public Opinion in the JFK Library Archives: Civil Rights Protests and the 1963 March on Washington


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