As Washington bureau chief for Jet and Ebony magazines, I directed coverage of the march by a team of reporters and photographers from across the country. The secret hysteria of the federal and local governments about a huge influx of civil rights demonstrators was evidenced on the eve of the march by warnings to area residents to stay home if they were not marching, and if they were, not to bring children. Government agencies closed and a Washington Senators ballgame was postponed. As demonstrators rolled into the District on buses, in cars, on trains, and some even on bicycles or roller skates, they were stunned to see armed troops on the street corners. What they did not know was that nearby military installations had been put on alert, ready to move in more troops if necessary. What the soldiers, the press and area residents who dared come out saw were tens of thousands of nicely dressed, — mostly in business attire — dignified and peaceful Americans of all races, carrying signs or wearing buttons communicating the righteousness of their cause. What folks today might not realize is that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. neither planned nor organized the march, although when it was over, it was clear that he would own it for all time. I wrote more about what I saw that day in my book, Shocking the Conscience: A Reporter’s Account of the Civil Rights Movement (Univ. Press of Miss., 2013), p. 224-225.
Submitted: February 18, 2013