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The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights

The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights

by William P. Jones

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Beyond Martin Luther King Jr.’s dazzling speech, here is the real significance of the massive march and the movement that organized it.


Beyond Martin Luther King Jr.’s dazzling speech, here is the real significance of the massive march and the movement that organized it.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Nearly a quarter-million people gathered on August 28, 1963, for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. University of Wisconsin historian Jones’s account explores the link between “black trade unionists’... struggle for fair employment with the southern struggle for civil rights.” A. Phillip Randolph holds center stage here, from the 1941 March on Washington that didn’t happen (cancelled when Roosevelt created the FEPC) to the 1964 general strike threat (relinquished with Johnson’s Civil Rights Act). In its deviation from conventional civil rights history (the path from Rosa Parks to the March), Jones fleshes out its operational milieu, the “organizational networks” upon which that history rests. In addition to his focus on the labor movement, Jones (The Tribe of Black Ulysses: African American Lumber Workers in the Jim Crow South) attends particularly to the role of black women’s clubs and sororities as they grappled with sexism. While King’s “I Have a Dream” speech has become the audio through which the March is remembered, Jones’s carefully documented, limpid account of the conflicts and compromises that it took to get there, and what remains to be done if the “dream” is to be fulfilled, offers the realities behind the rhetoric. For those who were there, this is an illuminating book; for those who were not, it will be transporting. Agent: Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. (July)
Judith Stein
“Finally we have the definitive history of the 1963 March on Washington.”
Bill Marvel - Dallas Morning News
“Vivid and moving.”
Kirkus Reviews
An account of the American civil rights movement leading up to the infamous 1963 March on Washington, which "aimed not just to end racial segregation and discrimination in the South but also to ensure that Americans of all races had access to quality education, affordable housing, and jobs that paid a living wage." In his latest book, Jones (History/Univ. of Wisconsin; The Tribe of Black Ulysses: African American Lumber Workers in the Jim Crow South, 2005) examines the little-known history of the people and events that spurred the March on Washington. Much of the book focuses on A. Philip Randolph, an African-American trade unionist who dedicated his life to leveraging his organizations' massive membership rolls for gains in civil rights. In 1941, Randolph organized the first March on Washington--a precursor to the 1963 march--though the march was called off when Randolph achieved his aim: pressuring President Franklin Roosevelt to issue an executive order ensuring that there would be no discriminatory hiring practices within "vocational and training programs for defense production." The world took note--Randolph realized the importance of power in numbers--and the threat of marching thousands within the nation's capitol would be repeated 22 years later. While Jones' book claims to employ the 1963 march as a focal point, the author does not particularly address that march until two-thirds into his work. Jones' overreliance on historical context allows the story to stray. Perhaps most disappointing, however, is that a book whose subtitle promises to examine the "Forgotten History of Civil Rights" devotes so many pages rehashing well-known information, leaving precious little space for examination of the 1963 March on Washington, as the title and preface implies. A broad, less-than-enlightening look at an important historical moment in America that historians have been "too eager to dismiss."
Sean Wilentz
“Indispensable. . . . . Rediscovers the inextricable links between the civil rights movement and the cause of economic justice.”
Eric Arnesen
“Jones gets past the heroic myths and provides us with the history we need not just to celebrate the march but to understand it. This is the single best book on that historic event to date.”
Michael Honey
“A magnificent work of historical reconstruction. . . . Jones provides a rich, robust understanding of the meaning of the march.”
Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore
“A masterful history. . . . Will Jones’s deeply satisfying book makes the history of the march whole and demonstrates the depth of change its participants embraced.”
Joshua Freeman
“One of the great moments in American history becomes fresh again. Peeling away layers of myth, Jones shows the deep roots of the march in a tradition of African-American labor struggle.”
Los Angeles Times
““[A] fresh take on events leading to the 1963 March on
Louis Menand - The New Yorker
“Provides an alternative to the standard account by stressing the part played in the movement by unions and women’s groups.”
Jay Strafford - Richmond Times-Dispatch
Patti Brown - Iowa Republican
“A tour de force. . . . [Jones] provides great food for thought as the nation faces race relations in the twenty-first century.”
Moshe Z. Marvit - Washington Monthly
“Jones thoroughly recovers the radical reality of the events leading up to the march, as well as the march itself.”
Library Journal
Jones (history, Univ. of Wisconsin; The Tribe of Black Ulysses: African American Lumber Workers in the Jim Crow South) vividly reassesses the "forgotten history" of the civil rights movement in this deeply researched investigation, which views the march on Washington not as a sole event, centered on Martin Luther King Jr.'s iconic "I Have a Dream" speech, but as a decades-long movement that promoted jobs, housing, and education. Although Jones focuses mainly on civil rights activist A. Philip Randolph (1889–1979), president of the influential Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union, he includes portrayals of lesser-known foot soldiers, e.g., black women who encountered discrimination from white society as well as from Randolph himself. Jones deftly traces the ebb and flow of the civil rights movement, beginning in 1941—when Randolph threatened a march on Washington over discrimination in defense industry jobs—and concluding with LBJ signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act. VERDICT This excellent revisionist account places the march, on its 50th anniversary, in its historical context, while revealing the economic roots of the modern civil rights movement. General readers and scholars will appreciate this fine, accessible narrative. See also Glenda Gilmore's Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919–1950.—Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Township Lib., King of Prussia, PA

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
9.30(w) x 6.00(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

William P. Jones, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, is a specialist in civil rights and labor history and contributes to The Nation and other publications. He and his family live in Madison, Wisconsin.

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