Professor Waterhouse Examines Viewpoints From March on Washington
August 28 marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a landmark event in the U.S. civil rights movement and the setting for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. The March on Washington stands today as a symbol of racial harmony and the power of nonviolent protest, exemplified by King's famous speech. But in 1963 it had diverse meanings for the different groups and more than 200,000 people who participated, says Professor Carlton Waterhouse of the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.
Civil rights pioneer and labor organizer A. Philip Randolph first proposed the March on Washington in 1941. "Randolph initially conceived of the march as a way to pressure President Franklin Roosevelt to prohibit racial discrimination in federal government war contracts but never felt the need to carry it out," Waterhouse said.
Civil rights groups wedded to different tactics and strategies united to organize the march. "To the leading civil rights organizations," Waterhouse said, "the March on Washington represented an opportunity to collaborate on an event that placed the need for federal government action on civil rights and labor issues on the national stage."
For President John F. Kennedy and his administration, the march was a public safety and a political risk that had to be closely managed and controlled. "This directly conflicted with the view of grass-roots organizers who were determined to end the filibuster in the United States Senate holding up legislation to prohibit certain forms of racial discrimination through a massive civil disobedience campaign to shut down Washington, D.C.," Waterhouse said.
Professor Waterhouse is a Dean's Fellow at IU McKinney School, and is known internationally for his research and writing on reparations for historic injustices and state human rights violations.