“When we were going to the March on Washington, we didn’t know whether it was going to be violent, and we didn’t know if it was going to be a place where fear pervaded. The reality was, it was quite the opposite. Joyful doesn’t really describe it for me. It was like the physicalization of love. It was ecstatic perhaps, but it was not giddy and silly or ‘Let’s have a good time.’ It was a far deeper kind of joy. It went beyond joy. It was hard to describe, but it was the antithesis of fear, and it propelled us all into another channel in our lives.”
The March on Washington took place decades after photojournalists began recording history in color, yet most of the existing news photos of the event are in black and white. Here is a gallery of rare color images taken at the march.
“The spirit in the whole setting was so exciting, so positive, so hopeful that something was going to happen. We felt very enthusiastic about everything. We were happy to wait and find a seat, and delighted when we found a seat up front, so we could see the procedure and we could hear the speeches. And it turned out to be an extraordinary experience for all of us: for the children and for Jack and I, because we had never worked on anything of that magnitude or seen that kind of support for equal opportunities, which is what we had been hoping for for many years.”
Martin Luther King Jr.’s "I Have a Dream" speech has become such an integral part of America's cultural inheritance that it can feel as if his message was all that March on Washington attendees took home with them on Aug. 28, 1963. Sometimes, though, the smallest artifacts from an occasion like the march are more evocative than the memory of the main event.
The items in this gallery were made available by the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of American History.
Photographs by Marco Grob for TIME.
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
"Dotted with color like a single giant living thing, the crowd massed at the memorial to Abraham Lincoln, 200,000 strong. Each dot was a person—with a cause the U.S. has come to know very well." Thus LIFE began its report on the March on Washington, in a cover story published two weeks after the event.
Charly Mann was just 13 years old when he boarded a bus in Chapel Hill, N.C., and traveled to Washington for the March on Washington. The diversity of the crowd he encountered on the National Mall stunned him. "In Chapel Hill, I was one of very few white supporters of civil rights—and pretty much the only one my age," Mann tells TIME. “I was so happy to see so many white people there. It felt like maybe things were changing in the country after all."
Here, TIME presents personal photo collections from Mann and several others from before, during and after the march.
Mann traveled to the march with some 50 other North Carolinians. Several years later, he interviewed Martin Luther King Jr. for his school paper.
St. Louis natives and brothers Alan and Bill Hamilton had both recently graduated from Notre Dame and were living in Washington in the summer of 1963. They worked at the National Security Agency and headed to the National Mall on Aug. 28 to take part in the march.
Millett was 22 years old in 1963 and stationed at the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Arlington, Va. He and his wife traveled together to Washington to attend the march. Millett recalls the day as pleasurably calm and low-key, despite the heat.
Schweitzer traveled with his co-workers from New York City to Washington. Along the way, he remembers passing a group of nuns who waved in support of the travelers from the steps of their convent in Baltimore.