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The March on Washington, Then and Now

The March on Washington, Then and Now
AP

Fifty years ago, 200,000 marchers took to the Nation's Capital for one of the biggest human rights rallies in U.S. history.

The March on Washington was organized by a group of civil rights, labor, and religious organizations. But despite its legacy today, it was not universally supported among civil rights activists at the time. Some worried it might turn violent (as did many white Washingtonians), and Malcolm X condemned it as the "farce on Washington."

The March, a 1963 film recently restored by the National Archives, documented the entire event from the long bus rides into D.C. to Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous speech, to a litter-strewn National Mall after the event, as excited attendees filed out and back to their home cities:

The film, despite the optimism conveyed throughout it, acknowledged that no matter how historic the event could end up becoming, it was far from a final victory over racism and discrimination: 

There were many who praised this day and said that there had been a new awakening of the conscious of the nation. Others called it a national disgrace. In the wake of this day, more violence was to come. More hatred. But in the long history of man's cruelty to man, this was a day of hope.

Half a century later, thousands took to the National Mall once again today and this past weekend, with National Action Network, a New York-based civil rights organization hosting its "National Action to Realize the Dream." Another event, called "Let Freedom Ring" is being hosted today, organized by a  collection of civil rights organizations including the NAACP and the National Urban League. Below, a look at images from the March 50 years ago, and this past weekend's:

In this combination of Associated Press file photos, at left, a mass of demonstrators leaves the Washington Monument for the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963; and at right, people line the Reflecting Pool as they attend a rally to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 march on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/File)

In this combination of Associated Press file photo, at top, large crowds gather at the Lincoln Memorial to demonstrate for civil rights in Washington, on Aug. 28, 1963; and at bottom, participants gather on the same steps to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 march, Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/File)

In this combination of Associated Press file photos, at top, large crowds gather near the Washington Monument to demonstrate for the civil rights movement in Washington on Aug. 28, 1963; and at bottom, people hold up banners as they attend the rally to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 march on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/File)

In this combination of Associated Press file photos, at top, a group of demonstrators pose for a photo at the Lincoln Memorial in during the Aug. 28, 1963 March on Washington; and at bottom, the Rev. Al Sharpton, center, arm-in-arm with Congressman John Lewis, lining up with Martin Luther King III, third from right, Andrea King, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, second from left, after the rally at the Lincoln Memorial, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1963 march, Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/File)

In this combination of Associated Press file photos, at top, civil rights protestors march down Constitution Avenue carrying placards during the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963; and at bottom, people rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 march Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/File)

Demonstrators marching in the street holding signs during the March on Washington, 1963." Image courtesy Library of Congress.

Students of Howard University march from campus to the Lincoln Memorial, August 24, 2013. (REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan)

"Photograph shows a crowd of African Americans and whites on the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial; two men in foreground read a newspaper with the headline: 'They're Pouring In From All Over.'" Image courtesy Library of Congress.

Participants gather on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during an event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Mark Byrnes is an associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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