Updated 9/02/2023 at 8:00 a.m. ET
Tens of thousands descended upon the National Mall marking the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington last week. Everyone in attendance remembers that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” at the march. But more than a few things about this iconic day have slipped through the history books.
Here are the six things you probably didn’t know about the original March on Washington:
That’s right! The iconic “I Have a Dream” speech almost didn’t happen. According to multiple sources, King had actually prepared a different speech entirely for the event.
However, as he spoke, Gospel Singer Mahalia Jackson shouted, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” At her prompting, King is said to have changed his address into arguably the most well-known speech in American history.
The late Harry Belafonte was more than just a critically acclaimed actor. Belafonte was instrumental in getting Hollywood stars, including Marlon Brando, to come to the March on Washington.
Today, we’ve mostly forgotten the longer title of the famous march. But the event was actually called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Organizers like King were clear that racial justice and economic justice were deeply interconnected issues that needed to be addressed by the Civil Rights Movement.
The original March on Washington might not have happened without the work of Bayard Rustin. Although A. Phillip Randolph came up with the idea for the March on Washington, he tasked Rustin with putting the march together. Rustin, an openly gay civil rights leader, planned the march, which was undeniably a massive success.
Although Black women were heavily involved in the planning of the march, they weren’t given much airtime. According to the National Women’s History Museum, male civil rights leaders declined to give women key speaking roles at the march. The absence of women at the original march was noted by one of the speakers this year.
“I was eight years old at the original March, and only one woman was allowed to speak,” said Pamela Mays McDonald, “Now look at how many women are on the podium today.”
Although folks probably don’t think the March on Washington came together in a day. Most people would probably be surprised to discover that it was actually twenty-years in the making. A. Phillip Randolph first came up with concept of a “march for jobs” in 1941, as a reaction to the fact that Black Americans were largely excluded by the New Deal.