© Dan Budnik

One Man. 
One March. 
One Speech.

One Dream

© Dan Budnik

Fifty years ago 250,000 people converged on the National Mall for a March on Washington. It became not just the largest political demonstration to date in American history, but also the beginning of a new era, defined by the phrase “I have a dream.”

Igniting the
Fire

The March on Washington was a peaceful demonstration for racial equality. But it would not have happened without the beatings, arrests and violent struggle for civil rights that had already engulfed the Deep South.

Harry BelafonteSinger, activistMarco Grob for TIME

“At the end of the Second World War, those of us who had participated in that conflict were under the impression that if we were triumphant over fascism and the Nazis, that the men and women who returned from that conflict would be celebrated and honored by our nation. Many of us went off to that war and didn’t have the right to vote. Many of us went off to that war and didn’t have the right to participate in the American Dream. We didn’t really think about this thing as a dream until Dr. King articulated it.

As a kid, there was not much I could aspire to, because the achievement of black people in spaces of power and rule and governance was not that evident, and therefore we were diminished in the way we thought we could access power and be part of the American fabric. So we who came back from this war having expectations and finding that there were none to be harvested were put upon to make a decision. We could accept the status quo as it was beginning to reveal itself with these oppressive laws still in place. Or, as had begun to appear on the horizon, stimulated by something Mahatma Gandhi of India had done, we could start this quest for social change by confronting the state a little differently. Let’s do it nonviolently, let’s use passive thinking applied to aggressive ideas, and perhaps we could overthrow the oppression by making it morally unacceptable.”

Indignity Every Day

"Separate, but equal" drinking fountains in North Carolina, photographed by Elliott Erwitt in 1950.

Elliott Erwitt—Magnum

Joan BaezSinger, activistMarco Grob for TIME

“When I first met Dr. King, I was 16, and he came to speak at our high school gathering. They have kids from all over the country come as representatives of their part of the country. So there were a couple hundred of us, and we would meet in groups and discuss politics, and we were discussing nonviolence because it was a Quaker-based group. And then Dr. King came and spoke, and I was just stunned, because this man was doing what we had talked about. They had just started the more publicly seen and known boycotts in Montgomery, and I just wept through the whole thing, because it made something real to me. It was real, but I hadn’t seen an example of it in my daily life, and there it was.”

The bus was
on fire
and was filling
up with smoke.

Civil Rights: The TIME Archive

  • Equal Justice Under the LawDec. 21, 1953As the Supreme Court prepared to hear oral arguments in Brown v. Board of Education, TIME profiled Chief Justice Earl Warren and documented the debate over segregation. Warren is described as a friendly and effective administrator who was admired by his colleagues and ahead of his time on matters of racial tolerance. Despite uncertainty about the outcome of the case, the direction of history was clear to the TIME authors. The article closes by reminding the reader, “There is no doubt that the color line in the U.S. is fading … [the negro’s] rise will not stop, whether he wins or loses this case.” (In 1954, the Justices, led by Warren, decided unanimously in favor of desegregation.) Join TIME to read the full story

  • Attack on the ConscienceFeb. 18, 1957Martin Luther King Jr. earned his first appearance on the cover of TIME after successfully orchestrating the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott. Relatively new to the national stage, King is described as “a scholarly, 28-year-old Negro Baptist minister … who in little more than a year has risen from nowhere to become one the nation’s remarkable leaders of men.” The story offers details on the boycott, famously inspired by Rosa Parks, and highlights King’s nonviolent, religion-based strategy. King is described as having “outflanked” Southern legislatures that sought to ban racial integration by striking “where an attack was least expected and where it hurt most: at the South’s Christian conscience.” Join TIME to read the full story

  • School Integration: A Report CardSept. 23, 1957Six years before Governor George Wallace made headlines blocking black students from entering the University of Alabama, Orval Faubus drew global outrage for using the National Guard to stop school integration in Little Rock, Ark. Described by TIME as an insecure, attention-starved, "slightly-sophisticated hillbilly," Faubus perfectly fit the picture of a Southern segregationist. The story documents his rise from humble beginnings in a candle-lit cabin to the rank of governor, as well as his embrace of segregation as a way to further his political career. But Faubus' efforts to hold back integration provoked ire from both Northern whites (who stopped a Broadway show to boo at one character's Little Rock heritage) and communist countries eager to seize upon American hypocrisy over human rights. The article correctly predicts that the governor overreached. A day after publication, President Dwight D. Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and forced the integration of Little Rock Central High School. Join TIME to read the full story

  • Lead Man HollerMarch 2, 1959In 1959, Harry Belafonte was both a musical sensation and an outspoken advocate for civil rights, and this cover story addresses both aspects of his life. In addition to his artistic achievements—he sold out theaters from Las Vegas to New York City—Belafonte’s long history as a fighter for racial equality is traced back to his youth in Harlem. “In 1944, with three other Negro sailors and our dates, I was refused a table at the Copacabana. Nine years later I was back there as the headliner,” Belafonte said. “How do you bridge that gap emotionally?” Join TIME to read the full story

  • Birmingham and Beyond: The Negro's Push for EqualityMay 17, 1963An author, playwright and essayist, James Baldwin was one of the U.S.’s most eloquent social critics, especially on the subject of civil rights. Yet as this TIME cover story states, he was not, “by any stretch of the imagination, a Negro leader.” Instead of leading marches, the politically uninvolved Baldwin left his mark with vivid descriptions of racism and insightful analysis on the root cause of white prejudice. The article describes Baldwin’s theory that “the white man … is guilt-ridden and sex-ridden, and he has managed over the years to delude himself by transferring his own failures onto the Negro.” As a result, Baldwin’s solution to racial tension is not legal but moral. The white man must come to terms with himself, and should he do so, said Baldwin, “the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.” Join TIME to read the full story

  • The Negro Revolution to DateAug. 30, 1963This cover story focuses on the history of blacks in the U.S., from the first black pilgrims to the NAACP, then headed by Roy Wilkins. The article summarizes “five fundamental areas of Negro discontent”—jobs, education, housing, voting and access to public accommodations—and mentions the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, held on Aug. 28. In the story’s closing, Wilkins predicts the future of American blacks: “There’s going to be beer, and doubleheaders with the Yankees, and ice cream and mortgages and taxes and all the other things that whites have in their world, and tedium too. It’s not going to be heaven.” Join TIME to read the full story

  • Alabama: Civil Rights BattlefieldSept. 27, 1963In a cover story on the governor of Alabama, then (and still) one of the poorest states in the U.S., TIME calls George Wallace a “smart, capable lawyer who has in many ways been a first-rate governor.” Before entering office, Wallace lost his first run for governor after being “out-segged”—in his words—by his opponent’s hard-line pro-segregation stance. Wallace learned from this and chose to become a fiercely committed segregationist out of self-interest. The story characterizes Wallace’s infamous attempt to personally block the integration of the University of Alabama as one of his many moments of cynical pandering to local racists. The article also suggests Wallace was partially responsible for the 1963 Birmingham bombing—in which four young girls were killed at a church—after his tactics further inflamed racial tension. Join TIME to read the full story

  • Man of the YearJan. 3, 1964Martin Luther King Jr. returned to the cover of TIME as the magazine’s 36th Man of the Year, for 1963. The article paints a startlingly raw and human portrait of King, revealing that he attempted suicide twice before he turned 13 and initially rejected religion because he was embarrassed by “the shouting and the stamping.” After reading Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Civil Disobedience” in college, King changed his mind and embraced ministry as the best strategy for social change. The article chronicles King’s triumphs, from the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott to the March on Washington. Join TIME to read the full story

  • The Central PointsMarch 19, 1965Martin Luther King Jr.’s third appearance on the cover of TIME accompanies a story about the protest in Selma, Ala., that became known as Bloody Sunday. King sought to protest Selma’s racist voting laws by organizing marches throughout the city. The protests infuriated local authorities, and police violently attacked demonstrators, killing one with a bullet to the stomach and fracturing the skull of civil rights leader (and future Congressman) John Lewis. The article describes how police reprisals spurred the civil rights movement forward and forced President Lyndon B. Johnson to intervene. After meeting with George Wallace, Johnson publicly excoriated the governor, promising federal intervention in any state where local authorities are “unable to function.” Join TIME to read the full story

Cover Story

One Dream

To mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, TIME presents a special commemorative issue—featuring Jon Meacham on King as a Founding Father of the 21st century; Richard Norton Smith on how King's words changed the nature of presidential persuasion; Michele Norris on the state of the dream today; plus Maya Angelou, Malala Yousafzai, Jesse Jackson, Colin Powell, Shonda Rhimes, Marco Rubio, Charlayne Hunter-Gault and more on what "I have a dream" means to them. Join TIME.com to read the full issue

© Bob Adelman

Julian BondCo-founder, Student Nonviolent Coordinating CommitteeMarco Grob for TIME

“The sit-in is an interesting technique. What it simply says is, I’m going to sit at this place where you don’t want me to sit, and if you really don’t want me to sit and you call the police and take me away, I’ll get somebody else to take my place. And when that person is taken away, I’ll get somebody to take their place. And I’ll sit there as if I belong there because I believe I belong there, and I’m going to keep coming back and coming back and coming back until finally you give in and say, O.K., you can sit there. The sit-in most people know about is the Greensboro sit-in that began on Feb. 1, 1960, and spread all across the South. It meant that in Jackson, Miss., and Atlanta, Georgia, and towns in South Carolina, North Carolina—all across the South—young people were going down to lunch counters, sitting at the counters, often getting arrested and often coming back again and again and again. And the pressure began to mount, and these lunch counters initially began to give in: ‘O.K., you can sit here. We’ll make changes. We’ll change our racial policies.’ ”

Mourning Medgar Evers

June 15, 1963

In June 1963, a Klan member named Byron De La Beckwith shot civil rights activist Medgar Evers in the back as the 37-year-old Evers stood in the driveway of his Jackson, Miss., home. Three days after the murder, on June 15, John Loengard made this photograph—one of the most moving pictures of the civil rights era—showing a deeply grieving Myrlie Evers comforting her weeping son Darrell Kenyatta at Medgar’s funeral. The photograph appeared on the cover of an issue of LIFE in which Myrlie paid tribute to her husband: "We all knew the danger was increasing," she wrote. "Threats came daily ... against us and the children. But we had lived with this hatred for years, and we did not let it corrode us." Myrlie fought for justice for her husband for more than 30 years, and when, in 1994, eight black and four white jurors found the 74-year-old De La Beckwith guilty of first-degree murder, her words upon hearing the verdict were, “Yes, Medgar!”

John Loengard—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

A small group of
Klansmen
surrounded me
and began to
hit me.
×