Fifty years ago, an estimated 250,000 people peaceably conducted the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Speakers included the executive secretary of the NAACP, the president of the AFL-CIO and United Automobile, and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
As co-organizer, King was the last scheduled speaker. He delivered "I Have a Dream."
Participants began marching from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial at 11 a.m. on August 28, 1963. King spoke at 3 p.m.—a time that will be commemorated in 2013 with bell-ringing and a speech by President Barack Obama from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
On the day of the 1963 march, National Geographic staff photographer James P. Blair captured this group of singing, smiling protesters in front of the Reflecting Pool—an assignment that took him less than two miles from NG headquarters.
Marchers pledged "non-violent protest," "peaceful assembly," and "to carry the message of the March to my friends and neighbors back home, and arouse them to an equal commitment and equal effort. I will march and I will write letters. I will demonstrate and I will vote. I will work to make sure that my voice and those of my brothers ring clear and determined from every corner of our land."
Often considered a turning point in the civil rights movement, the march—equally successful in invigorating the conversation and keeping the peace—is credited with assisting the passage of the following year's Civil Rights Act and 1965's Voting Rights Act.