DAVID GREENE, HOST:
As we've been reporting this morning, it was 50 years ago today that hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington for the biggest single protest of the Civil Rights Movement. Here at NPR, our Code Switch Team, which covers race, ethnicity and culture, has been reliving events in the seminal civil rights year of 1963, reporting them as if they were happening now, in real time, through a Twitter feed. It's called At Today in 1963.
Kat Chow is the curator, digging up primary sources and eyewitness accounts to transport us back in time using just 140 characters. Kat joined us to share what she's uncovered about the hours leading up to the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s iconic "I Have A Dream" speech.
KAT CHOW, BYLINE: Hey, David. Thank you.
GREENE: So take us through the morning. I mean you're gathering all this information right now, as if you were a reporter right there covering this event in 1963. I mean take us to the morning of the march. What's happening?
CHOW: Yeah. So as people are arriving and from these different cities to Union Station in Washington, D.C., according to the Christian Science Monitor, the National Association of Churches was launching at 3:00 a.m. this campaign called Operation Sandwich, where they had hundreds of organizers and volunteers making sandwiches in an assembly line. And their goal was to have 80,000 sandwiches put out by the morning.
GREENE: For people arriving, to be able to eat before going to the march.
CHOW: For marchers, yeah. And also on the actual march day, people were getting impatient. As you can imagine, the vast stretch of the Mall, I mean you have the Washington Monument, you have the Lincoln Memorial. They were told to organize at a few different places. It didn't necessarily go as planned. For example, some celebrities were scheduled to arrive at the march at 10:00 a.m., but they actually arrived at the airport at 11:10 a.m.
GREENE: A little late.
CHOW: A little late, and some people were getting lost. So Lena Horne, the singer, at 10:56 a.m. was announced lost. And as the...
GREENE: They announced that she was lost on the stage.
CHOW: They announced that she was lost, and as - I'm quoting The New York Times - the loudspeaker said sort of desperately: We are trying to locate Lena Horne. Lena, wherever you are.
GREENE: OK, so we're talking about how to feed all these people. We're talking about how to make sure people get where they need to go. But so far things sound peaceful and festive.
CHOW: Yeah, exactly. So Roy Wilkins, who was an NAACP leader, was actually quite satisfied with how the march was going. And he described it as almost looking like a Yankees game.
GREENE: Wow, baseball game.
CHOW: So, and other language that articles used, like The New York Times, for example, had this headline called "Gentle Army Occupies Capital," and said that folks had this good temper and that people were walking around leisurely.
GREENE: Now, Kat, let me ask you this. We use the term march to describe this event. Were people actually moving?
CHOW: The idea was that people would call from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, where the program would begin at noon. The intention was that the march leaders would be at the front of the group, as they all moved along. But you see that things didn't go as planned in the different accounts that newspapers had. And marchers had had enough and they started moving toward the Lincoln Memorial very, very slowly.
So people were moving in a sense. But if you look at photos of the Mall from 50 years ago, it almost looks like an assembly. People were just hanging out. Some people were napping underneath trees where it was shady. It was kind of a hot day in the mid-80s. And so people were just enjoying themselves.
GREENE: And so you've kind of taken us up to the moment itself and then you're going to be live tweeting today, as if you were tweeting back in 1963, following these events unfold. Kat, thanks for coming in.
CHOW: Yeah, thank you.
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GREENE: Kat Chow is with NPR's Code Switch Team reporting on race, ethnicity and culture. And you can follow her tweets reporting the original March on Washington as if it were happening today all day long @TodayIn1963.
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.
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And I'm Renee Montagne.
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