HARLEM — As thousands of people gather in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr's momentous "I Have a Dream" speech, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture decided to dig deep into its archives.
They found historic artifacts from the march such as a program of the star-studded speaker's list and a flyer exhorting people to come to Washington for the day that they organized into a pop-up exhibition titled "March '63" that will close Saturday.
"To see these documents up close is to bear witness to the greatest social movement in the nation's history,” said Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Director of The Schomburg Center.
“The flyer calling for people to join the March, the program of speakers, the transcript of John Lewis's speech all demonstrate in the clearest way that justice is a collective effort, a work in progress. The Schomburg is proud to be part of this moment of remembrance and renewal to the challenges of our time."
President Obama is expected to deliver a speech Wednesday commemorating King's speech at the exact same spot at the Lincoln Memorial.
The march, held on Aug. 28, 1963, was organized by the key civil rights leaders of the day and came at a key juncture for the civil rights movement. Not only did the march focus on civil rights but it also laid bare the economic inequality of race. The full name of the march and rally was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
While blacks have made great strides and Obama, the nation's first African-American president, is serving a second term, the racial economic disparities that King was fighting against still exist.
“Fifty years ago today 200,000 Americans gathered in Washington, D.C. to fight for their freedom; for the opportunity to live and learn among their neighbors,” said New York Public Library President Tony Marx. “The Schomburg Center’s exhibition honors the sacrifice and dedication of all those who attended the March in 1963."
On exhibit are various artifacts, including a flier entitled, flyer “An Appeal to You from James Farmer, A. Phillip Randolph, Martin Luther King, Roy Wilkins, John Lewis, and Whitney Young to March on Washington, August 28, 1963."
"America faces a crisis," reads a line from the flier. "Millions of Negroes are denied freedom," it continues. "Millions of citizens black and white are unemployed."
A program from the march shows the order of speeches given by civil rights legends such as Young, Wilkins and Randolph and a song by gospel great Mahalia Jackson.
Also included is a Travelers’ green books, which provided African-Americans with safe passage for their travels around the United States, along with photographs and a commemorative button that reads "I Was There."
Simon and Sarah Cuthbert-Kerr were visiting from Scotland where they decided to visit the Schomburg where Simon had done research 13 years ago for his PhD. in American history with a focus on community organizing in the South.
"It's amazing to think about how significantly some things changed and how others have not," Sarah Cuthbert-Kerr said after looking at the pop-up exhibit.
"You would think things would be much more advanced," added her husband.
But the significance of the march is greater today than ever before, said Simon Cuthbert-Kerr.
"In 100 years, Dr. King's speech and the march will be viewed in the same way as the Gettysburg address," he said. "This is so historically important."
"March '63" will be on display at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 515 Lenox Ave. at 135th Street, through Sat. Aug. 31. Call (212) 491-2200 for more information.