On August 28, 1963, more than 200,000 people gathered in the nation's capital to take part in the largest civil rights demonstration ever held. Demonstrators came from all over the country to participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march, initiated by A. Philip Randolph and organized by Bayard Rustin, brought together many civil rights, labor, and religious leaders and activists, including Martin Luther King, Jr. As the final speaker, King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. In this speech, King convincingly connected the African American freedom struggle to the fundamental tenets of the Declaration of Independence, namely the ideals of equality of and justice for all.
The march was successful in pressuring John F. Kennedy administration to initiate a strong federal civil rights bill in Congress. Though passed after Kennedy's death, the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 reflected the demands of the march.
However, the march's optimism quickly dissipated when less than a month later, on September 15, 1963, Ku Klux Klansmen bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four schoolgirls, and injuring many others. Outrage and grief over the death of the four girls fueled anger toward racial injustice, and civil rights activists became even more determined to demand change. President Kennedy met with a delegation of black leaders, including King, to discuss the tense racial situation. With the assassination of President Kennedy, in November 1963, the future of the nation and race relations became even more uncertain. After becoming president, Lyndon B. Johnson assured King of his commitment to passing Kennedy's civil rights proposal.
Martin Luther King, Jr., "I Have a Dream," Address Delivered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Eulogy for the Martyred Children, September 18, 1963.