Introduction and activities: The March on Washington


Introduction

The march on Washington DC in 1963 is remembered today as a defining moment in the Civil Rights movement. It assembled over 200,000 people (mostly African Americans) in a peaceful demonstration in favour of a proposed bill that in effect would end segregation. The Civil Rights Bill, first introduced by President John F. Kennedy, was passed the following year by President Lyndon B. Johnson. (Kennedy had since been assassinated.) The bill met stiff opposition in Congress, especially from representatives from the southern states.

Exercise

  1. Why is Abraham Lincoln mentioned and why is his statue shown at the beginning of the film?
  2. The demonstration is described as being “more like a Sunday outing” to begin with. What do you think is meant by this?
  3. The commentary states that the police had “little to do but keep dissident groups away from the rally”. What do you think these dissident groups would have against the main demonstration?
  4. How would you describe the tone and attitude of the commentary to events it describes?
  5. The song “We shall overcome” is heard several times during the film. It was originally a Gospel song, but in the 1950s and 60s it became the anthem of the Civil Rights movement. Here are the lyrics:

    We shall overcome, we shall overcome
    We shall overcome someday
    Oh deep in my heart, I do believe
    That we shall overcome someday

    We'll walk hand in hand, we'll walk hand in hand
    We'll walk hand in hand someday
    Oh deep in my heart, I do believe
    That we shall overcome someday

    We shall live in peace, we shall live in peace
    We shall live in peace someday
    Oh deep in my heart, I do believe
    That we shall overcome someday

    We shall brothers be, we shall brothers be
    We shall brothers be someday
    Oh deep in my heart, I do believe
    That we shall overcome someday

    The truth shall make us free, truth shall make us free
    The truth shall make us free someday
    Oh deep in my heart, I do believe
    That we shall overcome someday

    We are not afraid, we are not afraid
    We are not afraid today
    Oh deep in my heart, I do believe
    That we shall overcome someday.

    Why do you think the song became so popular? What effect does it have on you when you hear it?