A short but dynamic account of the landmark 1963 protest march that ended with Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Euchner (Writing/Yale Univ.; Little League, Big Dreams: Inside the Hope, the Hype and the Glory of the Greatest World Series Ever Played, 2006, etc.) masterfully paints what he calls a “pointillist portrait” of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which took place on Aug. 28, 1963. Drawing from interviews and diligent research, the author not only provides humanizing portraits of the major figures—including King, activist Bayard Rustin and march organizer A. Philip Randolph—he also effectively portrays ordinary marchers, both black and white. He accomplishes this through a kaleidoscopic collection of telling details, many of which serve to bring the often overly idealized March on Washington into focus. Euchner relates the friction among leaders of the civil-rights movement (Malcolm X ridiculed the March as the “Farce on Washington”); how a prominent Catholic leader nearly pulled out of the event because he felt activist John Lewis’s speech was too radical; how expert sabotage of an expensive sound system caused a last-minute crisis; and how some of King’s advisors urged him not to use his “I Have a Dream” speech, which they felt was trite. The author also engagingly portrays the rank-and-file marchers, combining inspirational stories—including that of an old black man, Joseph Freeman, who left Washington after escaping a racist mob in 1919, returning in 1963 for the march—with well-chosen, seemingly banal details, such as the fact that protesters on buses in Harlem complained loudly about the lack of air conditioning. Most impressive is Euchner’s amazing economy in telling this story; in just over 200 pages, he provides a wholly satisfying, comprehensive view of the March.
A sharp, riveting depiction of “what Martin Luther King called the greatest demonstration for freedom in the nation’s history.”