Teaching the March on Washington

On August 28, 1963, the March on Washington captivated the nation's attention. Nearly a quarter-million people—African Americans and whites, Christians and Jews, along with those of other races and creeds—gathered in the nation's capital. They came from across the country to demand equal rights and civil rights, social justice and economic justice, and an end to exploitation and discrimination. After all, the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom" was the march's official name, though with the passage of time, "for Jobs and Freedom" has tended to fade.

The march was the brainchild of longtime labor leader A. Philip Randolph, and was organized by Bayard Rustin, a charismatic civil rights activist. Together, they orchestrated the largest nonviolent, mass protest in American history. It was a day full of songs and speeches, the most famous of which Martin Luther King Jr. delivered in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial.

Last month marked the 50th anniversary of the march. Though the commemorations have subsided, the story of the march can be taught at any point in the school year. It's a story in which the labor movement played a significant role, but too often labor's part remains untold. Union members from various trades and the teaching profession not only joined the march that day, but also helped plan and mobilize support for it. Walter Reuther, the president of the United Auto Workers, was the most prominent white trade unionist to endorse the march. The labor leader spent his career speaking at many a union hall to convince the rank and file that the struggle of African Americans for decent jobs and working conditions mirrored the struggle of workers everywhere, regardless of race.

In the related articles (above), American Educator features articles that highlight labor's profound influence on civil rights leaders and the march's organizers. This package includes a comprehensive look at the history of the march; profiles of Randolph, Rustin, and Reuther; and personal reflections on that remarkable day from civil rights activists Norman Hill and Velma Murphy Hill. Here, we also provide a list of links to just a few of the excellent lesson plans developed by the Albert Shanker Institute and posted on the AFT's Share My Lesson website, as a starting point for teaching this historic event.


 Reprinted from American Educator, Fall 2013

Related Articles

The Move to Unity
Labor's Role in the March on Washington
By William P. Jones

Key Figures behind the March
By Charles Euchner

Living History
Two Civil Rights Activists Remember the March on Washington
By Norman Hill and Velma Murphy Hill

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American Educator, Fall 2013