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60 years later | Remembering the March on Washington

The March on Washington focused on employment discrimination and civil rights abuses against African Americans and other disenfranchised groups.

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — It was the largest gathering for civil rights of its time. About 250,000 people attended the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. 

They arrived in Washington, D.C. by planes, trains, cars, and buses from all over the country.

The march focused on employment discrimination and civil rights abuses against African Americans and other disenfranchised groups. It was also about supporting the Civil Rights Act.

The Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination in public accommodations and federally funded programs based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It also strengthened the enforcement of voting rights and the desegregation of schools.

"The march was to talk about the plight of African Americans in the United States, particularly around those two concepts of jobs and freedom," Dr. Martin Boston, Assistant Professor in Pan-African Studies and Ethnic Studies at Sacramento State, said. "In 1963, we have not seen the Voting Rights Act or the Civil Rights Act, which came the following years, and it's largely accredited to the work of the March on Washington."

The march began with a rally at the Washington Monument. It featured several celebrities and musicians. After that, people marched to the Lincoln Memorial for a three-hour-long program. It included speeches from prominent civil rights and religious leaders. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his historic "I Have a Dream" speech. It was the highlight of the event. Dr. King was the last person to give remarks, inspiring and uplifting the masses.

"When we think about those who are not here, and the work that they have done, it's important to think about, because you are here, what you have the capability and possibility to do," Boston said.

The march was organized and sponsored by a number of students, civil rights leaders, and labor organizations. The original idea came from A. Philip Randolph, a labor organizer and founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the Negro American Labor Council (NALC). 

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The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, also called NAACP, is a civil rights organization that helped in organizing the march, too. Now, 60 years later, the group says it's important to remember the past, but the work is not done.

"It keeps the history out there and it keeps individuals, in comparison to where we were then and where we are now," Betty Williams, president of Sacramento NAACP, said. "Has there been a change? There has been. But, things have started to turn backward."

The Japanese American Citizens League, also called  JACL, is a civil rights organization that participated in the march. JACL leaders and members marched in solidarity, in recognition that the racism Japanese Americans faced was no different from that which formed the basis of segregation laws targeting African Americans. 

"It was part of an effort, that started with the Black community, that gave us the confidence to engage in civil rights for all," Joshua Kaizuka, co-president of the JACL Florin Chapter, said. "It's not okay to be racist or to be a hater. We need to come together instead of dividing so that these people who are trying to divide our communities don't win. We win when we all stick together."

The March on Washington ended with a meeting between the event leaders and President John F. Kennedy at the White House. Even though the march did not immediately change the balance of power in Congress in support of civil rights, it did prompt many people to reconsider their perspective on the Civil Rights Movement. 

"So much of what we call Dr. King's dream, which was spoken at the event, has yet to be realized," Boston said. "We see a lot of falling back on those things, like affirmative action, Roe v. Wade, and voting rights. And, those kinds of things are really at the forefront of the civil rights struggle today."

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