Bayard Rustin Reflects on the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

In this oral history Bayard Rustin offers his opinion about why the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, held on August 28, 1963, was a success. Rustin was an organizer of the march along with many others, including A. Philip Randolph, an African-American labor leader. Randolph had also organized the March on Washington Movement in 1941 which, through the threat of a mass march on Washington, persuaded President Franklin Roosevelt to issue an executive order banning discrimination in government employment, defense industries, and training programs. The 1963 march is best known for the stirring oratory of the "I Have a Dream" speech delivered by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It wasn’t the Harry Belafontes and the greats from Hollywood that made the march. What made the march was that black people voted that day with their feet. They came from every state, they came in jalopies, on trains, buses, anything they could get—some walked. There were about three hundred congressmen there, but none of them said a word. We had told them to come, but we wanted to talk with them, they were not to talk to us. And after they came and saw that it was very orderly, that there was fantastic determination, that there were all kinds of people there other than black people, they knew there was a consensus in this country for the civil rights bill. After the March on Washington, when Kennedy called into the White House the leaders who had been resistant before the march, he made it very clear to them now he was prepared to put his weight behind the bill.

The march ended for me when we had finally made sure we had not left one piece of paper, not a cup, nothing. We had a five-hundred-man cleanup squad. I went back to the hotel and said to Mr. Randolph, “Chief, I want you to see that there is not a piece of paper or any dirt or filth or anything left here.” And Mr. Randolph went to thank me and tears began to come down his cheeks.

Source | Henry Hampton and Steve Fayer with Sarah Flynn, Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement From the 1950s Through the 1980s (New York: Bantam Books, 1990).
Interviewee | Bayard Rustin
Item Type | Oral History
Cite This document | “Bayard Rustin Reflects on the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 3, 2014, http://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/968.