We Were There: Memories of the March on Washington

They planned and organized, led and inspired. From Harry Belafonte and Joan Baez to John Lewis and Julian Bond, 17 participants in the March on Washington recall that historic day

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HOROWITZ: At the beginning of the march, when it was in its planning stage, Bayard started to get a series of letters from people who were friends of civil rights--Senators. The letters all had the same theme. They went, "Dear Bayard, We really think that passage of the civil rights bill is the most important thing. We have supported the struggle for freedom. But have you considered the difficulties of having a march on Washington? Will there be enough toilets for the people there? Will there be enough water fountains?" Bayard eventually called them latrine letters. And while we laughed about them, he took them seriously. So we rented toilets, and we rented fountains so that people could drink water.


Volunteer, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

Our committee met every week, and we said, O.K., what do we need to move this really large group of people from all over, to bring them in? We needed public relations. We needed to have a medical corps of nurses and doctors on hand. We needed to have porta potties, arrange transportation. Once we had charter buses, regular buses coming in--what's going to happen to those? Where are people going to park?

HOROWITZ: It was a massive amount of phone calling, getting cards ready to be mailed, negotiations with various bus companies. Then we turned to trains and airplanes. Eventually we tried to charter everything that was charterable. We tried very much to help those people who were coming long distances to get trains for them. We actually had to raise a lot of money for that, because it was expensive and it was a Wednesday. It meant people had to take a day off from work. So we did a lot of fundraising. And we had what we called Freedom Trains from the South, which involved some negotiations with the Southern Railway.


March on Washington volunteer

I just turned 15 at the time, and there were a lot of things that were going on, of course, in the South, with demonstrations and the marches and picketing. But there was this great march they kept talking about that was going to happen in D.C., and myself and two other guys, we were sitting there talking about it, and we wanted to go. But of course we didn't have the money to catch the bus. So one of the guys said, Well, let's hitchhike. I looked at the other guy, and I said, Oh, yeah, that's great, let's do that--because we thought he was just talking, and the more we talked, we realized he was serious.

BELAFONTE: We had Broadway shutting down, and we had large delegations of artists and celebrities coming from New York and from Boston and other places. It was not just in the world of cinema and theater. We had a lot of musical artists and record artists.

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