“Vivid and moving. . . . [Tells] a story all but lost in most civil rights histories.”—Bill Marvel, Dallas Morning News
It was the final speech of a long day, August 28, 1963, when hundreds of thousands gathered on the Mall for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In a resounding cadence, Martin Luther King Jr. lifted the crowd when he told of his dream that all Americans would join together to realize the founding ideal of equality. The power of the speech created an enduring symbol of the march and the larger civil rights movement. King’s speech still inspires us fifty years later, but its very power has also narrowed our understanding of the march. In this insightful history, William P. Jones restores the march to its full significance.
The opening speech of the day was delivered by the leader of the march, the great trade unionist A. Philip Randolph, who first called for a march on Washington in 1941 to press for equal opportunity in employment and the armed forces. To the crowd that stretched more than a mile before him, Randolph called for an end to segregation and a living wage for every American. Equal access to accommodations and services would mean little to people, white and black, who could not afford them. Randolph’s egalitarian vision of economic and social citizenship is the strong thread running through the full history of the March on Washington Movement. It was a movement of sustained grassroots organizing, linked locally to women’s groups, unions, and churches across the country. Jones’s fresh, compelling history delivers a new understanding of this emblematic event and the broader civil rights movement it propelled.
Nearly a quarter-million people gathered on August 28, 1963, for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. University of Wisconsin historian Jones s account explores the link between black trade unionists ... struggle for fair employment with the southern struggle for civil rights. A. Phillip Randolph holds center stage here, from the 1941 March on Washington that didn t happen (cancelled when Roosevelt created the FEPC) to the 1964 general strike threat (relinquished with Johnson s Civil Rights Act). In its deviation from conventional civil rights history (the path from Rosa Parks to the March), Jones fleshes out its operational milieu, the organizational networks upon which that history rests. In addition to his focus on the labor movement, Jones (The Tribe of Black Ulysses: African American Lumber Workers in the Jim Crow South) attends particularly to the role of black women s clubs and sororities as they grappled with sexism. While King s I Have a Dream speech has become the audio through which the March is remembered, Jones s carefully documented, limpid account of the conflicts and compromises that it took to get there, and what remains to be done if the dream is to be fulfilled, offers the realities behind the rhetoric. For those who were there, this is an illuminating book; for those who were not, it will be transporting.