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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Institutional Racism in Woodrow Wilson’s America

This blog was written by Kierra Verdun, a rising senior at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan and is a summer intern in the Textual Processing Division at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

Civic engagement is vital to the success of a representative democracy. By voicing concerns to elected officials, constituents ensure that their voices are heard. Representative democracy only benefits constituents when their elected officials are responsive in meaningful ways. Historically, some elected officials were not responsive to concerns expressed by constituents who were part of minority groups. The Wilson administration’s relationship with Black Americans proves this disconnect between ideology and reality.

In the Wilson Administration, the State Department routinely ignored and dismissed Black citizens’ pleas to speak out against lynching and other forms of discrimination. In fact, the administration was proactive in perpetuating segregation. Wilson and his cabinet actively worked to re-segregate federal offices and limit opportunity for Black Americans. A Postmaster within the Wilson administration once told reporters “There are no government positions for Negroes in the South. A Negro’s place in the corn field.” Documents in Record Group 59: General Records of the State Department at the National Archives provide proof of discrimination. The way in which the State Department responded to citizens concerned about racism is a clear indication of their attitudes. Continue reading

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Dick Gregory, Civil Rights Activist and Comedic Legend

Richard Claxton “Dick” Gregory was born in St. Louis, Missouri on October 12, 1932. He attended Southern Illinois University Carbondale, until he was drafted into the United States Army. Gregory is notably recognized for his work during the 1960s where he became a forerunner in stand-up comedy and a political activist. He was the first African American comedian to do stand-up comedy to successfully cross-over to white audiences. Gregory paved the way for many black comedians to separate from the racially charged entertainment traditions. He became known as the “Black Mort Sahl,” because his style was ironic and satirical.


Dick Gregory, image from the New York Daily Times

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A Phenomenon Called “Roots,” 1977

Today’s blog was written by Alan Walker, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland

From the moment our search room doors opened to the public in late 1936, family history was a big draw for the public. For the fiscal year ending June 30, 1938, nearly one quarter of the admission cards issued went to “students of genealogy.”


64-NA-324+Silence+in+the+Search+Room+-+Philadelphia+Inquirer,+Publicity,+8-12-42.JPG                                     64-NA-324 (investigators in Central Search Room, ca. 1940)

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Posted in African-American Women, American Civil War, Diaspora, Emancipation & Reconstruction, Finding Aids, Genealogy, Slavery and the Slave Trade, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Historical Background of the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program

Today’s post was written by Gabrielle Downer, Ph.D. Archivist in the Textual Processing Division at the National Archives at College Park


Harmony Community, Putnam County, Georgia. Negroes in the Harmony Community. [NAID 521375]

Historically, the agricultural industry has been generally unable to meet the labor demands since the 1940s. During World War II, the United States suffered drastically from food and labor shortages. Farm workers joined the armed forces and many women and children had to support themselves. Families had to compensate for the loss of their fellow farm workers and work on the farms themselves. Undesirably, the food and labor industry was still scare and more farm hands were needed. Continue reading

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If Not for the Public Outcry: The Tuskegee Syphilis Project/ Study

Today’s blog was written by Timmia King, undergraduate student at Howard University and spring intern in the Textual Processing Division at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland

The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment  was conducted from the years 1932 to 1972, in Macon County, Alabama. It’s namesake is derived from the facts that the experiment was conducted in an area overwhelmingly populated with African Americans close to the Tuskegee Institute that in an earlier survey funded by the Rosenwald Fund were found to have a high prevalence of syphilis and it was also conducted with the cooperation of Tuskegee Institute. This study is often referred to as one of the dark periods in modern medical history. But why is that, did this experiment involve sanctioned torture, was it as bad as to the multiple instances where African American females were sterilized or does it mirror instances in which countless other experiments that were done to the bodies of African Americans in the name of Eugenics. Well quantifying suffering is not my job, but instead here is a summary of the study. Continue reading

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“Roll Over Beethoven”: Tribute to Chuck Berry

“I grew up thinking art was pictures until I got into music and found I was an artist and didn’t paint.” ~ Chuck Berry

On March 18, 2017, Rock ‘n’ Roll legend Chuck Berry passed in his home in St. Charles County, Missouri. He was known for his guitar riffs, showmanship on stage and his renowned “duck walk.” His songs defined American music and brought into the mainstream the genre of rock and roll with such hits as “Maybellene” (1955), “Johnny B. Goode” (1958), “Run Rudolph Run” (1958) and “No Particular Place to Go” (1964). Berry received the Grammy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1984 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. He was also listed as Time magazine’s top 10 best electric guitar players and Rolling Stones magazine’s “greatest of all time.”

Paul Simon and Chuck Berry at “Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence” (2/26/12)

Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born on October 18, 1926 in St. Louis, Missouri. He was raised in a middle-class family where he developed an interest in music at an early age. Berry was influenced by Blues artists, and developed his guitar skills by studying Blues artists, such as T-Bone Walker. In 1955, Berry met Blues great Muddy Waters and signed with Chess Records. During the 1950s, Berry toured across the country and made several appearances on nationally syndicated television shows. Berry’s music influenced many up and coming artists in America and Great Britain, including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence

At the National Archives at Kansas City, there is a case file for US v. Charles Edward Anderson Berry (NAID 7403547) from the series Criminal Case Files, 1864-1986 (National Archives Identifier 582694). In January 1962, Berry was sentenced to three years in prison for violation of the Mann Act. The document below is the first page of the transcript of proceedings and testimony of the trial.

U.S. v. Charles Edward Anderson Berry (NAID 7403547)

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Two Views: Marcus Garvey the Leader and the Threat

Today’s blog was written by Timmia King, undergraduate student at Howard University and spring intern in the Textual Processing Division at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland

Coming into this project, I did not think I would find many records relating to Marcus Garvey. One thing I failed to realize, is that today, although we remember him as a great race leader who inspired feelings of self-pride and a want for self-determination of the African people, by the United States government he was thought of as a threat. He was called a “Negro Agitator” in the long tradition of “Negro Agitators” that came before him and after him such as Ida B. Wells and Martin Luther King, Jr. His organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), was labeled an unAmerican organization that incited racial violence. Sections of the United States government watched everyone and everything connected to him.

World War I Draft Registration Card for Marcus Garvey (NAID 641770)

World War I Draft Registration Card for Marcus Garvey (NAID 641770)

The Records of the Department of State (RG 59) contain quite a few records of his and his wife’s activity within the United States and throughout the US sphere of influence. Government workers followed his activity and sometimes went as far to request other countries not to allow him into their country. The predecessor of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (The predecessor of the FBI was a section of the Department of Justice called the Bureau of Investigation (BOI). Within the BOI there was a General Intelligence Division called the “anti-racial division” which was headed by J. Edgar Hoover.) also followed his activities closely in an effort to shut down his organization. There are five different court cases that the United States waged against Marcus Garvey. United States of America v. Marcus Garvey, Elie Garcia, Orlando M. Thompson and George Tobias (NAID 7388866) would prove to be the one that effectively weakened his organization’s power within the United States. As a result of the court case, he was convicted, jailed and then eventually deported.  After his deportation in 1927, the organization rapidly lost membership and influence. Continue reading

Posted in Diaspora, World War I Era | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Frederick Douglass – Statesman, Abolitionist, Champion of the People

Today’s post was written by Tiffany Walker, Archivist in the Textual Processing Division at the National Archives at College Park

Frederick Douglass was a social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in the Northern states and gained a following via his enrapturing speeches and antislavery writings. In his time, he was seen as a living example of the potential of formerly enslaved African Americans, who ran counter to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens.

Series: Artworks and Mockups for Cartoons Promoting the War Effort and Original Sketches by Charles Alston, ca. 1942 - ca. 1945 (NAID 535673)

Series: Artworks and Mockups for Cartoons Promoting the War Effort and Original Sketches by Charles Alston, ca. 1942 – ca. 1945 (NAID 535673)

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Posted in Emancipation & Reconstruction, Slavery and the Slave Trade | Tagged , , , , ,

Black History Month 2017: Blogs Related to Military

Happy Black History Month! This year the Rediscovering Black History blog at the National Archives would like to highlight select posts from the past. This public blog was created to inform researchers, scholars, students, and anyone interested in records related to African-American history at the National Archives and Presidential Libraries on the vast amount of textual, electronic, photographs, and special media available for use. For the past four years, NARA employees, student interns, and independent researchers have written informative and insightful blogs on the black experience through the use of our holdings. The highlighted blog posts for the month of February will center around popular themes. Today’s theme is military.

"Master Charles Michael Lee, A Patriot" August, 1941. Local ID: 111-SC-121857

“Master Charles Michael Lee, A Patriot” August, 1941. Local ID: 111-SC-121857

African Americans have contributed to every war fought by the United States from the Revolutionary War to today’s current conflicts. The records used on this topic are mostly military records from all branches, which includes textual, motion pictures, and photographs to highlight the actions of African Americans primarily during the Civil War and World War II. Selected blogs focus on the heroic actions of black soldiers, discrimination in the military, and little unknown stories about the involvement of African Americans enlisted in the US military.


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