Massive Negro Demonstration 'Only a Beginning'

No Evidence of Any Effect on Congress

By Stanley Meisler
of the Associated Press

Eugene Register-Guard
Thursday, August 29, 1963
[local Eugene, Oregon newspaper version of this national Associated Press article written for afternoon papers the day after the March]

Stanley Meisler & Hubert Humphrey - March on Washington (1963)
Stanley Meisler - March on Washington (1963)

photos of Stanley Meisler covering the March on Washington

WASHINGTON - The historic civil rights march on Washington - massive and orderly and moving - has dramatized the wants of Negroes in America, but leaders still faced the task today of trying to turn drama into action.

Speaker after speaker told the 200,000 Negro and white sympathizers massed in front of the Lincoln Memorial Wednesday that their demonstration was no more than a beginning.

"Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content," said the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., "will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual."

Demonstrators and their leaders made it clear that one sign of progress, in their view, would be congressional approval of President Kennedy's civil rights bill. But there was no evidence that the demonstration would move the Congress into any faster consideration of the bill.

Kennedy, like the civil rights leaders, also talked in terms of a beginning. He met with King and the other civil rights leaders after the demonstration and said, "'We have a long way yet to travel."

But the President also said "the cause of 20 million Negroes has been advanced by the program so appropriately before the nation's shrine to the Great Emancipator."

Kennedy, in his statement, spoke of the demonstration's "quiet dignity,'' and this was the element of the day that probably most impressed the city of Washington.

Police had three minor arrests - none of a demonstrator. Red Cross workers reported what they expected for a crowd so large: a share of headaches, faintings, broken bones and insect bites. Demonstrators, tired and quiet, headed home In their special buses and trains.

By 9 p.m., Washington police reported the city normal, and relieved almost all special police details from duty.

The day was a long one, and it was filled with gaiety and song and fervor. At times it seemed like a Sunday picnic; at others, like a church revival; at others, like a political rally. The crowds had patience and enthusiasm.

At the height of the ceremonies, the crowds massed far east along the lengthy pool that reflects the Washington Monument and far north almost to the State Department and far south near the parkways by the Potomac River. Some demonstrators lolled behind the Lincoln Memorial and listened to the songs and speeches over the loudspeakers.

After the demonstration, A. Philip Randolph, 74, Negro director of the march and president of the AFL-CIO Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, said: "the march has already achieved its objective. It has awakened and aroused the conscience of the nation."

There was some conflict not visible to the crowds at the Lincoln Memorial.

A demonstration leader, John Lewis, told a newsman later that he was forced to rewrite his speech because the Most Rev. Patrick A. O'Boyle, Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington, had objected to it.

Lewis, 23, a Negro, is chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, one of the youngest and most militant of the civil rights organizations.

Lewis said Archbishop O'Boyle, who delivered the invocation, had told march leaders he would not appear on the same platform with Lewis if his prepared speech was delivered as written. Lewis said the prelate considered the speech revolutionary.

Lewis said a meeting was called of the civil rights leaders, and he was forced to give in. When he gave his speech, he left out such comments as:

"We cannot depend on any political party, for both the Democrats and the Republicans have betrayed the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence."

But the crowds did not know this, and they cheered and applauded the words of Lewis. But they reserved their greatest applause for King, the chairman of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

One supporter shouted out "the next president of the United States" as King began to speak.

The Negro leader, 34, drew loud cheers when he pointed to the 20,000 or so white sympathizers in the crowd and said "many of our white brothers have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom."

One of the aims of the demonstrators was to convince Congress to pass President Kennedy's civil rights bill soon. When several sympathetic congressmen were introduced, demonstrators chanted at them: "Pass the bill. Pass the bill. Pass the bill."

But there was no evidence that Congress would respond quickly to this demand. Although some legislators like Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey, D-Minn., said the demonstration would help pass the bill, others said it would not affect passage one way or another.

And the House Judiciary Committee, with so many members taking off for their Labor Day weekend, decided to postpone consideration of the bill until Sept. 9.

But, whatever the action of Congress, the balmy day was a memorable one - for the demonstrators who sang "We Shall Overcome" and marched and then stood elbow to elbow listening to their leaders; for the spectators - mostly government workers - who watched the streams of humanity march from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial; and for the National Park Service employees who later had a sea of paper cups, picnic boxes, and napkins to clear away.

© 1963 Associated Press

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