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The Senate and the March on Washington

On August 28, 1963, approximately 250,000 people attended the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in Washington, D.C. The march organizers met with Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield and Minority Leader Everett Dirksen during the morning, and also with the House leadership. The Senate was in session that day and recessed at 1:14 p.m. so that senators could attend the event. Several senators gave floor speeches both before and after the march:
Hubert Humphrey (D-MN) on August 27, 1963
“These people—both white and Negro—are coming to Washington out of a deep and personal sense of commitment to the struggle for civil rights that is underway in this land. They are coming because they share the belief that second-class citizenship must be banished without delay. They are coming to Washington because their consciences will permit them no other course.”

Joseph Clark (D-PA) on August 28, 1963
“Mr. President, one of the serious problems confronting the country and the Nation today has to do with the President’s civil rights proposals. Today in Washington a large number of American citizens, said to be in the neighborhood of 100,000, are demonstrating. Yet in connection with the President’s proposals for civil rights—which I strongly support—it is important to appreciate that unemployment is one of the greatest present difficulties in the way of a successful granting to our Negro citizens of their civil rights.”

Frank Moss (D-UT) on August 28, 1963
“Mr. President, I am proud to announce that 16 people have traveled the thousands of miles between Utah and Washington to participate today in the march on Washington for jobs and freedom. The arrival of this delegation from Utah is particularly meaningful, because less than 1 percent of the population of our State is Negro, and civil rights have never been a paramount problem. But Utahans have an abiding interest in the national ceremony taking place today here in Washington, and our delegation exemplifies Utah’s dedication to the right of free movement, and above all, to freedom of the spirit.”

Wayne Morse (D-OR) on August 28, 1963
“Mr. President, this afternoon I attended the program at the Lincoln Memorial conducted by the leaders in charge of the march on Washington for jobs and freedom. It was the most moving and inspiring experience in my life in connection with any matter involving public affairs.”

Hubert Humphrey (D-MN) on August 28, 1963
“Mr. President, I have been asked the following question: Will the Congress be moved by today’s demonstration. That is a question for each Member of Congress to determine. Members of Congress will be either moved to do what is right in this body or they may be moved out of this body.”

Paul Douglas (D-IL) on September 3, 1963
“Mr. President, last Wednesday the city of Washington witnessed one of the most significant demonstrations in the history of our Republic. More than 200,000 Americans—both Negros and whites—marched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. In perfect order and with great dignity and restraint, they marched to show their deep concern that equal civil rights should be accorded all American citizens, regardless of their race. This is the first task of our democracy. We should do this in order to be true to our religious faith. We should do it in order to make the 14th Amendment a reality in all sections of our country.”

Jacob Javits (R-NY) on September 3, 1963
“Mr. President, on Wednesday last the Nation and the world saw the heart of the American Negro revealed in an unforgettable demonstration of unity and democracy. In a dignified, extraordinarily disciplined, and intensely patriotic manner, 200,000 Americans—from all sections of the Nation and from all levels of life—came to the Capital of their country to appeal for redress of the very real grievances of the Negro. This march on Washington for jobs and freedom could not help but touch the conscience of every American and, I hope the conscience of Congress. This living petition was directed to the Congress, which has lagged behind the other branches of the Federal Government in insuring and protecting the right of the Negro to full citizenship.”

William Proxmire (D-WI) on September 3, 1963
“Mr. President, I suppose nearly every newspaper in America had a comment on the freedom march in Washington last week. One of the most thoughtful and in my judgment one of the finest editorials printed anywhere was written by the Milwaukee Journal. I shall read the first and last paragraphs of that fine editorial: ‘A quarter-million Negroes have just taught other Americans their finest lesson in the whole meaning of the first amendment “right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”’ The last paragraph reads: ‘The most dangerous error now would be to settle back with a sigh of relief and say, “Well, that’s over.” It isn’t over; it has just begun. How far inside the door does crisis have to come before democracy will act to cure itself?’"

Alan Bible (D-NV) on September 4, 1963
“Mr. President, August 28 should not be permitted to slip into history without the city of Washington, its leaders, and its residents taking the bow they so properly deserve as gracious hosts. Two hundred thousand Americans from all sections of this land participated last Wednesday in one of the greatest single demonstrations in this country’s history. This great Capital City could not have acquitted itself more admirably and proper note should, and must, be taken of that fact. . . . August 28 has now come and gone and the city of Washington has shown by putting its best foot forward that it has lived up to a reputation as the greatest capital city of the greatest nation in the world.”

Harrison Williams (D-NJ) on September 12, 1963
“Mr. President, the great march on Washington is now behind us. The blisters on the feet of the marchers are probably well healed by now; the news commentators are finding joy in speculating about the effect on Congress of the march; and I recently read that you can now buy lapel pins that state that ‘I was there.’ Mr. President, the march may be history, but the thoughts of this great event continue to live on. The perseverance with which the marchers came to Washington, the good will and dignity they showed upon arrival are still in the minds of all who witnessed the occasion. Never before in the history of mankind has there been such a gathering.”

Hiram Fong (D-HI) on September 13, 1963
“Mr. President, anyone present at the civil rights march on August 28 could not fail to be deeply moved by that stirring demonstration of our fellow Americans. Two hundred thousand of these citizens—at least a third of them of white and oriental ancestry—demonstrated their determination to ‘redress old grievances and help solve an American crisis.’ Public response to this demonstration in Hawaii has been overwhelmingly favorable. Two of Hawaii's newspapers echo these sentiments in their ringing editorial praises of the event. Tremendously impressive in its quiet dignity and orderliness, it is living testimony that, as the Honolulu Advertiser pointed out, ‘our democracy, though imperfect, still endures.’”