“It was a Wednesday, but people still wore their Sunday best,” Kitty Kelley writes of the 300,000 who braved the wilting heat to rally for civil rights in suits, hats, and gloves at the March on Washington.
The event, which celebrates its 50th anniversary on Aug. 28, drew plenty of artists — Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary among them — but fewer legislators. Kelley writes that only 20 senators and 130 House members deigned to attend.
Kelley’s friend Stanley Tretick was a leading photojournalist in the 1960s. After his death in 1999, she discovered Tretick’s collection of photographs of the march.
Kelley, known for her scathing biographies of the world’s most influential people, has published the photos and penned the text accompanying them in “Let Freedom Ring: Stanley Tretick’s Images of the March on Washington.”
Photos show tens of thousands by the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall with their feet dipped in the water as they listened to the soaring speeches delivered that day.
Blacks and whites of all ages sit side by side on the grass, others lay prostrate from the heat while marshals try to drag them to on-site medical units.
Kelley includes excerpts from the day’s most memorable moment: the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and highlights some of the day’s unsung heroes, such as singer Marian Anderson, who was booked to sing the National Anthem but was thwarted by the crowds.
Perhaps the book’s most revealing photos are those Tretick shot of the “Big Ten,” as the march leaders were known, standing in the office of then-Senate Majority Leader Everett Dirksen. The tension in the room is palpable on the page. It wasn’t until the following year that President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.
Proceeds from the book’s sales will go to the Children’s Defense Fund, whose president, Marian Wright Edelman, attended that march and writes the forward.
Stephanie Green writes for Bloomberg Muse, the arts and entertainment section.