Skip to main content

Photos capture faces of March on Washington

By Alicia W. Stewart, CNN
updated 3:47 PM EDT, Fri August 23, 2013
August 28, 1963, was one of the most important days for the civil rights movement. Over 200,000 people gathered on the National Mall in Washington to hear Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his famous "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Magnum photographer Leonard Freed (1929-2006) was there documenting that historic day. August 28, 1963, was one of the most important days for the civil rights movement. Over 200,000 people gathered on the National Mall in Washington to hear Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his famous "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Magnum photographer Leonard Freed (1929-2006) was there documenting that historic day.
HIDE CAPTION
Leonard Freed's March on Washington
Leonard Freed's March on Washington
Leonard Freed's March on Washington
Leonard Freed's March on Washington
Leonard Freed's March on Washington
Leonard Freed's March on Washington
Leonard Freed's March on Washington
Leonard Freed's March on Washington
Leonard Freed's March on Washington
Leonard Freed's March on Washington
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "This is the Day: The March on Washington" is a photo essay of the March on Washington
  • The book shows many of the people who participated in the march
  • Images from the march were important in remembering the message, the co-producer says
Leonard Freed is best known for his image of Martin Luther King Jr. after King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
Leonard Freed is best known for his image of Martin Luther King Jr. after King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

(CNN) -- It was his most famous speech, and the most memorable moment of the March on Washington.

All eyes were on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on August 28, 1963, as he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech to a crowd of 250,000.

But one photographer, there to document the event, trained his camera away from the civil rights icon and toward the crowd.

The result was a visual document showcasing the diversity of marchers who gathered that day.

"This is the Day: The March on Washington," is a collection of 75 of Leonard Freed's photographs -- most published for the first time -- taken before, during and after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Freed's most recognizable image is likely a photo of King glad-handing supporters in Baltimore after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

But in "This is the Day," there is only one photograph of King, an atmospheric shot taken from afar.

Most of the images focus on anonymous marchers: black, white; union and nonunion; secular, religious; people from all over America, and from many different walks of life.

"Leonard Freed's moving photography offers still images of an America at once frozen in time and marching restlessly to its multicultural and multiracial future through the lens of a visionary artist," Michael Eric Dyson writes in the foreword to the book.

Freed was an American Jew, born in Brooklyn, who spent time in Europe. He was living in Berlin in 1961 when he took a photo of an unnamed African-American soldier standing guard by the Berlin Wall.

He was haunted by that image, according to Paul Farber, a contributing author to "This is the Day."

"(To Freed) that encounter was a contradiction of American culture: that a soldier could guard a country's freedom abroad, but would be denied those rights at home."

Freed was haunted by this photo he took of a black soldier guarding the Berlin Wall in 1961, author Paul Farber says.
Freed was haunted by this photo he took of a black soldier guarding the Berlin Wall in 1961, author Paul Farber says.

It compelled Freed to return to the United States to photograph the story of race in America.

Freed's wife, Brigitte, recalled those images when she heard then-candidate Barack Obama say: "I am here because somebody marched."

Those words prompted her to revisit her husband's archives from the March on Washington. Her husband died in 2006, but she hoped his images of that day would live on.

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

She worked with Farber, a visiting assistant professor of writing at Haverford College, to curate the project, and "This is the Day: The March on Washington" was born.

In this edited conversation, CNN spoke to Farber about Leonard Freed's photographs from the march and the importance of images in communicating the message of the civil rights movement.

CNN: As a co-curator of the project, how did you and Ms. Brigitte decide which images to select? What criteria was used?

Farber: What we did was look (at photographs) that Leonard had marked with a wax pencil, meaning this was an image he liked or would like to explore.

We also sought images from the perspective of now, decades later, which images might stand out and be important to a contemporary viewer -- especially the ones that give us a view of the faces of the crowd.

The goal was always that Leonard's own vision might be brought out from the day, but also that other images might participate in a broadened cultural awareness of the sweeping diversity and impact of the march.

CNN: What would you say is the most powerful image from this collection? Why?

Farber says this image taken by Freed at the March on Washington gives a sense of belonging.
Farber says this image taken by Freed at the March on Washington gives a sense of belonging.

Farber: One in particular that stands out is of young women in zip-up NAACP jackets standing at the base of the Washington Monument with American flags waving behind them.

I think what you get a sense of is it took people out of their everyday circumstances and brought them together, here, against this monumental landscape of the National Mall. This was the people's gathering place. And using their presence as a way to create a collective -- that stands out -- and states belonging. The photograph to me is a feeling of a belonging.

CNN: Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech is perhaps the most enduring symbol of the march. What do the photos reveal that history often forgets?

Farber: One of the great historical facts about the march was the difficulty in pulling off an event that was pioneered by a number of organizations and individuals with different definitions and investments of social change at the march.

(I see) the rich diversity of the "we": Although there are different groups and investments, you get a sense from photographs like these that it's not an "us" and a "them" but a "we".

It's not to erase the differences, or simply streamline them, but in co-existing, you get a richer vision of what social change can be.

CNN: How was this photography critical in the message of the march?

Farber: Leonard captured some important private reflective movements.

It's a lesson for us in thinking about great moments in history: what it takes to envision progress or possibility is both about moving forward and also about considering and questioning and stopping -- and having the patience for social change.

Part of what photography gives us is ... a sense of the high points of these great moments in history, as well as the unexpected glances that really capture the subjects (as) they have their own thoughts and own ideas, (and) relate to the broader group's perception throughout the day.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Fifty years ago 250,000 people converged on the National Mall for a March on Washington. It became the beginning of a new era.
updated 1:50 PM EDT, Wed August 28, 2013
How the speech was crafted is just one of several interesting facts about what is one of the most important moments in the 20th century.
updated 2:58 PM EDT, Wed August 28, 2013
The five decades from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Dream" to Trayvon Martin's death have been the most tumultuous in the country's racial history.
updated 3:47 PM EDT, Fri August 23, 2013
It was Martin Luther King, Jr.'s most famous speech. But one photographer trained his camera toward the crowd, instead.
updated 12:38 PM EDT, Tue August 27, 2013
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as Public Enemy No. 1? Well, 50 years ago, that was nearly true.
updated 10:07 AM EDT, Wed August 28, 2013
Gay pioneer Jack Nichols stated, "We had marched with Martin Luther King, and from that time on, we'd always had our dream about a (gay) march of similar proportions."
updated 10:41 AM EDT, Sun August 25, 2013
Martin Luther King Jr. taught exactly one class his entire life. It was in 1962 in Atlanta -- a year before he would give his "I Have a Dream" speech in the nation's capital.
What are your everyday experiences with racism?Share your story with CNN's iReport.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Mon August 26, 2013
"Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last."
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Tue August 27, 2013
The goal was to build pressure on Congress to move forward with the civil rights bill that President Kennedy had proposed.
updated 12:24 PM EDT, Fri August 23, 2013
Patricia Worthy worked the phones to organize the March on Washington. But when the day came, she couldn't keep her eyes open.
updated 10:35 AM EDT, Sun August 25, 2013
There is a secret about Bernice King that not everyone close to her wants you to know.
updated 9:18 PM EDT, Wed August 21, 2013
Bayard Rustin is the most important leader of the civil rights movement you probably have never heard of. Why? Because he was unabashedly gay, writes LZ Granderson.
updated 11:02 AM EDT, Sun August 18, 2013
A Tennessee man finds a long lost interview with Martin Luther King, Jr. in an attic in 2012.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
There is a secret sauce for the weak to beat the strong, say those who have studied and participated in successful nonviolent social movements.
updated 6:48 PM EDT, Sun September 1, 2013
The summer of 1963 was hot. I'm not referring to the weather: Young black activists were beginning to question their commitment to nonviolent tactics.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Sun August 25, 2013
Today they are lawmakers, professors and grandparents. But 50 years ago, they were the young faces of the civil rights movement.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT