The March on Washington: Hear the Call

Posted by Hillary Brady in August 27, 2015.

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Fifty-two years ago this week, more than 200,000 Americans came together in the nation’s capitol to rally in support of the ongoing Civil Rights movement. It was at that march that Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have A Dream” speech was delivered. And it was at that march that the course of American history was forever changed, in an event that resonates with protests, marches, and movements for change around the country decades later.

Get a new perspective on the historic March on Washington with this incredible collection from WGBH via Digital Commonwealth. This collection of audio pieces, 15 hours in total, offers uninterrupted coverage of the March on Washington, recorded by WGBH and the Educational Radio Network (a small radio distribution network that later became part of National Public Radio). This type of coverage was unprecedented in 1963, and offers a wholly unique view on one of the nation’s most crucial historic moments.

In this audio series, you can hear Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic speech, along with the words of many other prominent civil rights leaders–John Lewis, Bayard Rustin, Jackie Robinson, Roy Wilkins,  Rosa Parks, and Fred Shuttlesworth. There are interviews with Hollywood elite like Marlon Brando and Arthur Miller, alongside the complex views of the “everyman” Washington resident. There’s also the folk music of the movement, recorded live here, of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Peter, Paul, and Mary. There are the stories of some of the thousands of Americans who came to Washington D.C. that August–teachers, social workers, activists, and even a man who roller-skated to the march all the way from Chicago.

Hear speeches made about the global nonviolence movement, the labor movement, and powerful words from Holocaust survivor Joachim Prinz. Another notable moment in the collection is an announcement of the death of W.E.B DuBois, one of the founders of the NAACP and an early voice for civil rights issues.

These historic speeches are just part of the coverage, however. There are fascinating, if more mundane, announcements, too, about the amount of traffic in Washington and issues with both marchers’ and commuters’ travel (though they reported that “north of K Street appears just as it would on a Sunday in Washington”). Another big, though less notable, issue of the day, according to WGBH reports, was food poisoning from the chicken in boxed lunches served to participants at the march. There is also information about the preparation for the press, which a member of the march’s press committee says included more than 300 “out-of-town correspondents.” This was in addition to the core Washington reporters, radio stations, like WGBH, TV networks, and international stations from Canada, Japan, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. These types of minute details and logistics offer a new window into a complex historic event, bringing together thousands of Americans at the nation’s capitol (though, as WGBH reported, not without its transportation hurdles!).

At the end of the demonstration, you can hear for yourself a powerful pledge, recited from the crowd, to further the mission of the march. It ends poignantly: “I pledge my heart and my mind and my body unequivocally and without regard to personal sacrifice, to the achievement of social peace through social justice.”

Hear the pledge, alongside the rest of the march as it was broadcast live, in this inspiring and insightful collection, courtesy of WGBH via Digital Commonwealth.

Banner image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

A view of the March on Washington, showing the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

A view of the March on Washington, showing the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.