1963 June 22

President Kennedy Tries, Fails to Get Civil Rights Leaders to Cancel March on Washington


At a White House meeting with the nation’s top civil rights leaders on this day, President John F. Kennedy tried but failed to persuade the group to call off their planned March on Washington, scheduled for August 1963. Kennedy argued that a march would have a “negative impact” on Congress. Civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph, who had attempted to organize a march on Washington in 1941 (see January 14, 1941; June 18, 1941), replied, “Mr. President, the Negroes are already in the street. It is very likely impossible to get them off.”

At this same meeting, Kennedy took Rev. Martin Luther King aside and tried to persuade him to fire one of his top aides because he was alleged to be a Communist. See the separate event on this day: June 22, 1963.

Kennedy had not been supportive of the civil rights movement, and this was one more occasion when he sought to control the tempo of the movement. He did not, for example, give strong support to the 1961 Freedom Rides that began on May 4, 1961. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was held on August 28, 1963, and is one of the landmarks of the movement, highlighted by Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Read a critical account of Kennedy and civil rights: Nick Bryant, The Bystander: John F. Kennedy and the Struggle for Black Equality (2006)

Watch newsreel footage of the 1963 March on Washington: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nj-feUZ32wI

Read the monumental Three-Volume biography of Dr. King by Taylor Branch: Parting the Waters (1998); Pillar of Fire (1998); At Canaan’s Edge (2006)

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