March on Washington

Marchers in Washington

Two hundred thousand people participated in the largest non-violent demonstration ever held to support the passage of civil rights legislation. At the rally, Dr. Martin Luther King stated, "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: we hold these truths to be self evident; that all men are created equal."..

The 1954 Supreme Court decision of Brown vs. the Board of Education provided an impetus within the Civil Rights movement to desegregate institutions in the South. Black students throughout the South began sit-ins at lunch counters to demand service at all white facilities of the South. Fifty thousand people demonstrated and three thousand went to jail. In 1961, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) led a series of freedom riders on buses throughout the South to dramatize the segregation in public facilities in the South.

Kennedy tried not to become too involved in the events of the Civil Rights Movement, promising to introduce civil rights legislation in his next term. Events in the South deteriorated, however, and, during a confrontation in Montgomery, Alabama, Attorney General Robert Kennedy sent federal marshals to protect protesters.

In October 1962, James Meredith, a 29-year-old black Air-Force veteran attempted to register at the University of Mississippi. A riot ensued, and President Kennedy had to send 400 federal marshals and 3,000 troops to allow his registration. Two people died in the violence.

On June 11, 1963, President Kennedy went on television, calling the situation "a moral crisis," and calling for additional civil rights legislation.

In August, 200,000 people marched in Washington, D.C., calling for more action. Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson sang, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous "I have a dream" speech.