DIALOGUE AND DISCUSSION ON EDUCATION, ENVIRONMENT AND RACE
Although African Americans had been legally freed from bondage, 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 economic and political repression. A system of legal discrimination, known as Jim Crow laws, were pervasive in the American South, ensuring that Black Americans remained second-class citizens. They experienced discrimination from businesses and governments, and in some places were prevented from voting through intimidation and violence. Twenty-one states prohibited interracial marriage.
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. A. Philip Randolph—the president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, president of the Negro American Labor Council, and vice president of the AFL-CIO—was a key instigator in 1941. With Bayard Rustin, Randolph called for 10,000 black workers to march on Washington, in protest of discriminatory hiring by U.S. military contractors and demanding an Executive Order. Faced with a mass march scheduled for July 1, 1941, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 on June 25. The order established the Committee on Fair Employment Practice and banning discriminatory hiring in the defense industry. Randolph called off the March.
Randolph and Rustin continued to organize around the idea of a mass march on Washington. They envisioned several large marches during the 1940s, but all were called off (despite criticism from Rustin). Their Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, held at the Lincoln Memorial on May 17, 1957, featured key leaders including Adam Clayton Powell