Adding to the Picture: The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

In this activity, students examine three documents to better understand the goals, participants, and leaders of the 1963 March on Washington.


  • Students will analyze different primary sources to discover what different groups expected from the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

  • Students will compare the traditional narrative of the March on Washington with the picture that emerges from the document(s) they analyze in the activity.   


Step 1: (Optional) Ask students to picture the civil rights movement: what people, places, and events do they see?  If it does not come up, suggest the 1963 March on Washington and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.  Tell students that while the 1963 March on Washington and MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech is one of the most iconic events of the civil rights movement, most textbooks and films just focus on the role of a few key leaders.  Today they will look at some images and read some primary sources to get a sense of the "bigger picture" of the many people who made the march successful.  

Step 2: Divide students into small groups. Pass out the "Adding to the Picture" worksheet and the photograph of the march's leaders.  Lead the students in an analysis of the photograph to complete the first row on the worksheet. 

Note: Students can be grouped homogeneously by literacy level, and assigned appropriate documents or grouped heterogeneously and perform the activity as a jig-saw.  Each student in the group works on a document matched to his skill level, then shares what he has learned with his peers.  

Step 3: Pass out the "I Have a Dream" excerpt.  Depending on the level of the students, the teacher may want to read the document out loud. Have students work with their groups to complete the second row on the worksheet. Before moving on to the next step, go over students' responses.  

Step 4:  Pass out one document to each group.  

  • Black Workers Call for a March on Washington (pamphlet only): low literacy

  • Women Protestors Rally at the March on Washington: low literacy

  • "What We Demand": high literacy

  • Bayard Rustin Reflects on the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom: low/medium literacy

  • John Lewis Tells America to "Wake Up": high literacy

  • A Female Civil Rights Activist Condemns "Jane Crow": high literacy

Step 5: Students work independently to answer the question at the bottom of the sheet, explaining how their document "adds to the picture" of the 1963 March on Washington.

Step 6: (Optional) Each group presents its document to the whole class. The class votes on the one or two documents that BEST "add to the picture" based on which group made their case most convincingly.  

Historical Context

The 1963 March on Washington was followed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (outlawing segregation) and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  The traditional narrative of the 1963 March on Washington focuses on the role of significant national figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph Abernathy in planning and leading the march, and its placement in the timeline of key civil rights events in the 1960s.  This narrative, repeated in textbooks and films and national celebrations of the civil rights movement, leave out or lose sight of the significant role of ordinary people, students, women, and local organizers to organize the march (and other events of the movement).

Usually these narratives include only one aspect of the marchers' demands, too: civil rights. In fact, the 1963 march was the culmination of a decades-long process of bringing both the political and economic needs of the black community to the attention of Washington lawmakers. This process started during World War II, when labor groups, led by A. Philip Randolph, threatened to march on Washington if black workers were not hired and paid equally to white workers in defense industries.   

Some marchers in 1963 wanted even greater changes than the leaders of the march would dare broach. Women wanted full gender and racial equality.  Randolph and labor leaders continued to ask for greater economic equality, as they had been since the 1940s.  More radical students wanted bigger structural transformations in society, and were not afraid to stridently critique the government they saw impeding progress.  All of these voices were present at the 1963 March, leading some scholars to suggest that the 1963 March was really "many marches" converged in one place at one time.  


Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, 2010.
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | Copyright American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Item Type | Teaching Activity
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “Adding to the Picture: The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 10, 2015,