Beyond 'the Dream': The Lesser Known Moments of the March on Washington

There was more to that day than Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
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This article is the ninth in a series featuring clips from the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, which is working to digitize television and radio pieces so that they may be preserved for years to come. For more about the project, see our introduction to the series, where you'll also find a handy list of all the series' pieces so far.


To think of the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, is to call to mind four famous words: "I have a dream." You don't just read those words; you hear them. You know the cadence and the timbre of Martin Luther King Jr.'s voice; you know the words.

But the March on Washington was a full day's worth of events. There were speakers and music, tributes and prayers. There was John Lewis of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and the national anthem sung by Marian Anderson. For 15 hours—15 hours!—the event went on, and for 15 hours straight, a collective of radio stations known as the Educational Radio Network broadcast it live up and down the eastern seaboard.

And here is the best thing about that: As the broadcast played, a quarter-inch tape at WGBH in Boston rolled, recording for posterity the audio of that day. According to WGBH, "These tapes ... are the only complete audio coverage of the broadcast in existence."

Now, thanks to grant support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Parks Service, those tapes have been digitized, and are available at WGBH's OpenVault. Here, for a taste of what's available, is Bayard Rustin, executive director of the March on Washington, introducing Rosa Parks to the stage, as part of the event's tribute to women (a tribute that unfortunately served in lieu of featuring any women as official speakers that day).

"The March recording," WGBH archives manager Keith Luf wrote to me, "is important because it represents a highly coordinated effort across several ERN stations to carry the days events, live in real time. This effort took several weeks of planning, and considering the limited technology of the time, is a testament to the producers and engineers who brought it off so well."

And for us today, the recording is something even more: an illustration, Luf says, "that history does not occur in isolated sound bites." The story of the March on Washington began long before that August; it ran through the hours of speeches and performances on the D.C. stage; it continued in the lives of those it moved and inspired; and it stretches to today, for those who in 2014 might hear its message anew, in a digitized radio recording of a day in 1963.
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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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