Although the 1963 March on Washington was made famous by Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, the historic event would not have occurred without the efforts of two other African-American men.
David Krugler credited labor leader A. Phillip Randolph and nonviolent activist Bayard Rustin for setting the stage for the march, formally known as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Krugler, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, spoke Wednesday at Dubuque's Carnegie-Stout Public Library.
"Randolph was the idea guy, and Rustin was the organizer and logician," Krugler said. "A march Randolph planned in 1941 that never happened set the groundwork in a way for the 1963 march."
Social and political marches on the nation's capitol to affect change were unheard of before 1894, when Jacob Coxey led "Coxey's Army" from Ohio to the Capitol to protest high unemployment and to demand better roads.
Although Coxey was jailed for his efforts, "the idea of going to Washington peacefully with demands was legitimized," said Krugler, who reviewed other historic marches on Washington by groups ranging from suffragettes in 1913 to the Ku Klux Klan in 1925 and three other civil rights "assemblies" in Washington organized by Randolph in the 1950s.
Randolph determined the focus of the march by adding the words "for jobs and freedom" to the title. He and Rustin realized that integration would mean little without economic equality along racial lines.
Rustin planned for 100,000 marchers with a budget of $100,000 for first aid, toilets, publicity and ancillary needs, but more than double that number descended on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963, including 450 buses from New York City's Harlem neighborhood. The streets were so congested that renowned singer Marian Anderson missed singing the national anthem at the opening of the march.
"Dr. King spoke last, so everyone thought he was in on the planning from the beginning," Krugler said. "King was too busy with actions in Birmingham, where he was arrested, and other cities while the march was being planned."
King became involved two months before the march.
After speeches by important civil rights leaders and religious figures, late on that warm summer afternoon, King gave the speech he is best remembered for. One historian called it "the oratorical equivalent of the Declaration of Independence."
Krugler said, "King didn't finish his speech until the morning of the march. He usually spoke without a script, but he wrote this one. But then he added a phrase he had used often before that he said just came to him, 'I have a dream.'"
Repeating that phrase, using compelling images of African-American suffering, adding rich biblical allusions and rousing his audience with his pastoral oratorical skills, King captured the spirit of the civil rights movement in 17 minutes.
"The speech is so cherished by history because of its optimistic tone," Krugler said, "but if King and Randolph and Rustin were alive today and looked around, would they think that dream had been fulfilled?"