10 things you may not know about the 1963 March on Washington

50 years ago, hundreds of thousands of people descended on our nation's capital to demonstrate for civil rights. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his powerful 'I have a dream' speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Here are ten things you might not have known about the March on Washington and King's remarks.

1.Where it may have started

The roots of the march dated back more than two decades. In 1941, A. Philip Randolph, president of both the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the Negro American Labor Council, had proposed along with other black leaders staging a 100,000 person march on Washington to protest segregation in the armed forces and discrimination in defense industries. To prevent the march, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed an executive order outlawing racial discrimination in wartime industries.

2.JFK request

On June 22, 1963 – just two months before the scheduled march – President John F. Kennedy met with civil rights leaders at the White House and expressed deep reservations about a mass rally in the nation’s capital. He told them he needed their help in getting his civil rights legislation passed, saying “we want success in the Congress, not a big show on the Capitol."

3.Size and scope

The march was the largest ever held in Washington up to that time, with 250,000 participants, about one quarter of whom were white.

4.Part of history

Twenty-one charter trains carrying African Americans from around the country pulled into Washington on the morning of the march, and at one point buses filled with marchers flowed through the Baltimore tunnel at the rate of 100 per hour, according to prominent civil rights historian Taylor Branch. One African American roller skated to the march from Chicago, while another, an 82-year-old, rode his bicycle from Ohio.

5.Stage presence

Some of the most memorable parts of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech – including the ‘I Have a Dream” segment – were not in the original draft. He ad-libbed them on stage. Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who was sitting behind him on the dais, admonished King to “tell them about the dream, Martin.” Mr. Branch has written that it isn’t known if King heard her admonition but that he later said he had forgotten the rest of the speech and took up the first string of oratory that came to him.

6.Top ranked

In 1999, a group of 137 academics voted the “I Have a Dream” speech the top public address of the 20th century.

7.Award winner

King was named Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1963 and won the Nobel Peace Prize the next year.

8.Peaceful protest

Despite widespread fear among whites and the mainstream press that the marchers would foment mayhem – “The general feeling is that the Vandals are coming to sack Rome,” one headline in the Washington Daily News said – police recorded only four march-related arrests, all of them white people.

9.Women's fight, too

Female civil rights activists pressed the organizers of the march to allow women a more prominent role on the dais, but only one, Daisy Bates, a leader in the fight to integrate public schools in Arkansas, was allowed to speak. She got 142 words.

10.Blazing two trails

Separate routes were laid out for male and female civil rights leaders, with the men marching down Pennsylvania Avenue and the women down Independence Avenue.