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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THOMAS: We were there to guide people, tell them where to go, what were the gathering points for the march, because obviously the vast majority of people had never been in D.C. before. So we had to direct them. A very large percentage of them came by bus, but there were other people who drove their automobiles. It was a question of showing them where to go in, how to get to the reflecting pool, into the Lincoln Memorial and to be of assistance to them in case we'd have any medical emergencies. That was primarily my job and the job of the marshals. We all owned distinctive armbands so people knew who we were.

I think it was about 7 o'clock that morning when we took our stations, and we didn't see anybody, and then within the next hour, people started pouring in, and it was just a wonderful sight.

AVERY: I don't really think they expected that many people. The word around the office was, when we were putting the signs together, If you get 35,000 or so, you're going to be O.K.

LEWIS: We came across Constitution Avenue, coming from the Senate side going down to the bottom of the hill, and we looked toward Union Station. There was a sea of humanity coming from Union Station, and the people were already marching, and it was like saying, There go my people. Let me catch up with them.

HOROWITZ: The chairmen were up on Capitol Hill meeting with the leaders of the House and Senate, and people at the Washington Monument had decided they were ready to go to the Lincoln Memorial. They formed lines, and they began to march, singing, and an orderly march began spontaneously to the Lincoln Memorial so that by the time the march chairmen came, somebody had to stop the march, and they had to be put in front of what was really not the front of the line, just so they could lead it.


March on Washington attendee; Georgia state senator

It was an incredible experience being in a gathering of that size. It just felt like we were part of a glacier moving down the avenue.

AVERY: I became a participant like everybody else once the march started. Hey, if you need a sign, you've got to go put your own sign together--we're gone.

LEWIS: You saw signs from all over America: political signs, religious signs. People representing different faiths. Churches from the heart of the Midwest, the far West. People coming from all over the country to bear witness, to participate. Many of the people were well dressed. It was like going to church or temple or synagogue. People then, when they went out for a protest, they dressed up.

BOND: The interracial nature of the crowd is remarkable. You look at these pictures, and you see this is not a black crowd. This is black and white people. This is Americans saying, I don't like segregation. I want it to stop.


Widow of Jackie Robinson; founder of the Jackie Robinson Foundation

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