56 years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech as part of the March on Washington. The speech was delivered to an estimated 250,000 people who came to Washington, D.C., to march for civil rights.
Here are 5 basic facts about the March and the events leading up to Dr. King’s speech.
1. The official event was named the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” On June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy made a nationally televised address calling for a drive for more civil rights. That same night, NAACP leader Medgar Evers was murdered in Mississippi.
2. Marches had been proposed before the Kennedy speech and Evers’ killing, but those events forced the issue. Kennedy met with civil rights leaders Dr. King, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young and student leader John Lewis about a proposed march. Kennedy signaled his approval publicly in July when he was assured it would be a peaceful event.
3. The March was not universally supported by activists. One prominent objector was Malcolm X. The organizers also didn’t agree on all the issues, but they did agree that blacks and whites should march together at the event. Another prominent objector was Strom Thurmond.
4. It wasn’t the first threatened March on Washington by civil rights leaders. In 1941, a march was being organized to demand desegregation in the U.S. military as World War II approached. President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, which banned discrimination in the federal government and defense industries in June 1941, which averted a march that may have involved 100,000 people.
5. Dr. King almost didn’t give the “I Have a Dream” part of the “I Have A Dream” speech. Singer Mahalia Jackson urged Dr. King to tell the audience “about the dream,” and Dr. King went into an improvised section of the speech.