60 Years Since March on Washington: Looking Back on Historic Event

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It was a call for economic and racial equality, a call to action that brought more than 200,000 people to the national mall in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963, exactly 60 years ago.

It’s a day best remembered for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s historical “I Have a Dream” speech.

“Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy,” Dr. King, a Civil Rights Leader, said during his speech.

Among the hundreds of thousands who attended the march, were two young activists, Courtland Cox, then 22, and Edward Flanagan, then 20, who were filled with hope.

Cox, 82, was a 22-year-old working for the civil rights organization, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) at the time.

 “My thought today is that we succeeded in changing this country,” Cox, now Chairman at SNCC Legacy Project, said. 

As a young organizer, Cox was responsible for arranging safe transportation for people making the trek from the south to Washington D.C.

For Cox, there were many challenges in the days leading up to the march.

“The challenge from the top was [that] the Kennedy Administration was opposed to John Lewis’ speech,” Cox recalls.

Cox worked alongside then 23-year-old civil rights activist John Lewis, who was the chairman of SNCC at the time.

This picture shows the two men as they rewrote the speech to tone it down to make it less critical of the Kennedy administration’s civil rights bill, which they felt didn’t go far enough to protect people from police brutality.

“John Lewis, Jim Foreman, and myself were in the back of the Lincoln Memorial rechanging John Lewis’ speech to make sure, that while it was critical, it was not negative,” Cox said.

“It is true that we support the administration’s civil rights bill,” Lewis said during his speech. “We support it with great reservation, however.”

Flanagan, who was a waiter, wanted to take a stand for civil rights, like scores of others.

“It was in fact a march for jobs and freedom,” Flanagan, who attended the March on Washington in 1963, said.

Both Cox and Flanagan agree, while much was accomplished that day, the work is not over.

“We are still, while in a much better place than we were in ’63, not in a place one would expect 60 years on,” Flanagan said.

“We succeeded in doing a number of things by what we did in the past,” Cox said. But we also know we have to do much more for the future.”