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Published:August 28th, 2013 08:22 EST
For the 50th Anniversary of The March on Washington, 'Primary Sources' Are Your Best Bet!

For the 50th Anniversary of The March on Washington, 'Primary Sources' Are Your Best Bet!

By John G. Kays

Today is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for jobs and freedom (August 28, 1963); I`m searching for primary sources that are not already saturated with interpretation. Those sources inundated with interpretation or opinion would have to be classified as secondary in nature. This is what were seeing in about 99% of the current news articles on Google or Yahoo or on television broadcast news. Just as jurors can`t be swayed by the bias of media engaged in the case they`re hearing, so are historians obliged to avoid heavily massaged secondary sources.

This is a sizable task when one would like to take an objective look at the March On Washington, which is actually a much larger consideration than Martin Luther King`s iconic  `I Have a Dream` speech, which is only one component part of  this once in a lifetime social and racial protest of people (both black and white). Obviously, MLK`s speech was the highlight of the day; we know now, many of his words were spontaneous, coming almost naturally from his vast experience and education (and knowledge of the bible).

If you can try to get around some of these simplistic and two dimensional takes on important event in our nation`s history, you can still find some neat primary documents, reprinted by some canny news sources. Slate published the best I could find; they`ve published much of Bayard Rustin`s Organizational Manuel, that tells you who is sponsoring the march, why they were marching, who will march, what are their immediate tasks, and how to get food and sanitation. This manuel is the nuts and bolts of the march, and can probably help to explain why it went so smoothly and was conducted so peacefully.

It`s as simple as it was very well organized! Another good source I found was on YouTube (Buyout - Historical Footage in True HD); it`s just raw film footage of the March, that hasn`t been edited and is without commentary. You don`t need any commentary to see how happy these people are, driving on buses, arriving in Washington DC for an event that will transform their lives permanently. You can see the look in their eyes and immediately sense history was sweeping them off their feet and they would never return to the not so good place they were in before.

Everybody joined together in the joyous moment and held hands in celebration; blacks, whites, priests and nuns, folk singers, civil rights workers, church leaders, or really anyone who sought justice and real freedom, not encumbered by crippling segregation, such as the poisonous prescription of bigoted words by Alabama`s (foul mouthed) governor George Wallace earlier in the year of 1963. Eyes On the Prize is a great documentary on the Civil Rights movement, but even better, is just watching raw footage of the March happening in real time.

And photographically speaking, the image of all these people, craving for a change in the political and social landscape of the United States, is overwhelming! The pool of water surrounded by a sea of yearning, blissful humanity, with the Lincoln Memorial in the background, tells us about everything we need to know about that one day. Yes, MLK hit the ball out of the park that August day in the Capitol, 50 years ago, but that`s because he spoke for, and channeled through all those thousands of people, as if he was a filter, a prophet for a new direction the country would have to take; the legacy for the next 7 years (of the 1960s) was one of strife and violence, yet for one moment we had cosmic tranquility.