Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, Washington, D.C.

Background:

The Prayer Pilgrimage to Washington for Freedom took place on May 17, 1957, when a crowd of over thirty thousand nonviolent demonstrators, from more than thirty states, gathered at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the third anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling. In addition to celebrating the three-year anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision to end segregation in public education, the Prayer Pilgrimage also dramatized and politicized the failure of most southern states to work toward or implement the court-ordered desegregation of their schools. The pilgrimage was organized by A. Philip Randolph, a noted leader of the Civil Rights movement who gained recognition in 1941 when his plan for a mass gathering in Washington to draw attention to discrimination in the war defense industry, prompted President Franklin D. Roosevelt to desegregate the nation's munitions factories and establish the Fair Employment Practices Commission. The demonstration's three-hour program featured addresses, prayers, songs and scripture recitations led Mahalia Jackson, Roy Wilkins and Mordecai Johnson, as well as, Martin Luther King Jr.'s first address before a national audience. While organizers of the Prayer Pilgrimage to Washington for Freedom voiced disappointment that the crowd failed to reach its anticipated attendance of fifty thousand people, at the time it occurred, the march earned the distinction of being the largest organized demonstration for Civil Rights, and was instrumental in laying the groundwork for future marches on the nation's capitol.

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