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Although African Americans had been legally freed from slavery, elevated to the status of citizens and the men given full voting rights at the end of the American Civil War, many continued to face social, economic, and political repression over the years and into the 1960s.

At the march, Martin Luther King Jr., standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech in which he called for an end to racism.

Rustin was a long-time associate of both Randolph and Dr. With Randolph concentrating on building the march's political coalition, Rustin built and led the team of two hundred activists and organizers who publicized the march and recruited the marchers, coordinated the buses and trains, provided the marshals, and set up and administered all of the logistic details of a mass march in the nation's capital.

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They also experienced discrimination from businesses and governments, and in some places were prevented from voting through intimidation and violence.The impetus for a march on Washington developed over a long period of time, and earlier efforts to organize such a demonstration included the March on Washington Movement of the 1940s. Philip Randolph—the president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, president of the Negro American Labor Council, Randolph and Rustin continued to organize around the idea of a mass march on Washington.That night, Mississippi activist Medgar Evers was murdered in his own driveway, further escalating national tension around the issue of racial inequality. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin began planning the march in December 1961.They envisioned two days of protest, including sit-ins and lobbying followed by a mass rally at the Lincoln Memorial.Violent confrontations broke out in the South: in Cambridge, Maryland; Pine Bluff, Arkansas; Goldsboro, North Carolina; Somerville, Tennessee; Saint Augustine, Florida; and across Mississippi.

Most of these incidents involved white people retaliating against nonviolent demonstrators.Finalized plans for the March were announced in a press conference on July 2.Mobilization and logistics were administered by Rustin, a civil rights veteran and organizer of the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, the first of the Freedom Rides to test the Supreme Court ruling that banned racial discrimination in interstate travel.The public failure of the meeting, which came to be known as the Baldwin–Kennedy meeting, underscored the divide between the needs of Black America and the understanding of Washington politicians.However, the meeting also provoked the Kennedy administration to take action on the civil rights for African-Americans. Kennedy gave his famous civil rights address on national television and radio, announcing that he would begin to push for civil rights legislation—the law which eventually became the Civil Rights Act of 1964.Members of The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference put aside their differences and came together for the march.