60 years ago, today, on August 28, 1963, over 250,000 people gathered near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. In search of freedom and jobs, this group marched on Washington demanding equality under the law. The impact of this march cannot be understated. It is believed that this event built the momentum needed in the Civil Rights Movement to pass the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act over the next two years.
The March on Washington was organized by the leaders the six large civil rights groups of the time. A peaceful demonstration, the protestors involved aimed to draw attention to the discrimination of Black Americans and their inability to find jobs created by the New Deal program. In a New York Times article written a few days before the march, we read, “In conception and in planning, the March on Washington is expressive of the American tradition of peaceable assembly and petition for a redress of grievances . . . the elimination of unequal treatment is the common responsibility of all of us. . .”
The March on Washington is perhaps best remembered for the speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in which he said, “I have a dream . . . I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood . . . I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Less than one year after this iconic speech was delivered, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, which prohibited discrimination in public places, integrated public schools, and ended employment discrimination.
On August 15, 1969, the music festival that would come to be known as Woodstock began. The festival was headlined by some of the most famous musicians of the time as well as several fledgling artists who would go on to claim rock and roll fame. The festival’s legacy, however, has little to do with who played there and more to do with who attended. Woodstock has become synonymous with the counterculture of the sixties—young people who faced the tumultuous and violent realities of the Vietnam War, the Stonewall Riots, and the Civil Rights Movement and believed that love and music could change the world.
Woodstock was held on tract of land owned by dairy farmer Max Yasgur. When festival organizers John Roberts, Joel Rosenman Artie Kornfeld, and Michael Lang set up a stage on this land they didn’t realize that the festival would see more than 400,000 attendees. Performers at Woodstock included Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Santana, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, the Who, Jefferson Airplane, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Despite the rain, the vibe remained peaceful among the throng of concert-goers. Yasgur, addressing the crowd, is recorded to have said, “You’ve proven to the world . . . a half a million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music and God bless you for it!”
The legacy of Woodstock lives under two perspectives. Some believe it symbolized the worst of that generation—self-indulgence, addiction, and declarations without action behind them. Some believe it was a revolution—young people declaring to the world a desire to change the society they live in and their belief in the power of togetherness and music to do so.
On May 19, 1930, Lorraine Hansberry was born in Chicago, Illinois. Her parents, Carl and Nannie Hansberry, were prominent civil rights activists. The family’s experiences with these issues would later shape Lorraine’s artistic sensibilities and become central themes in her work.
Hansberry made history when her play, “A Raisin in the Sun,” debuted on Broadway in 1959. At just 29 years old, she became the first African American woman to have a play produced on Broadway. The play explores the aspirations and struggles of a black working-class family living in Chicago’s South Side. Its themes resonated with audiences of all backgrounds, making it an instant success and earning Hansberry critical acclaim.
“A Raisin in the Sun” marked a turning point in American theater, challenging the racial stereotypes and narratives prevalent at the time. It defied the notion that black stories were unmarketable or unworthy of attention. Her play not only paved the way for other African American playwrights but also provided a platform for marginalized voices to be heard.
Hansberry’s life was cut tragically short by pancreatic cancer at the age of 34, but her impact on American literature and the civil rights movement cannot be overstated. Her work continues to be celebrated and studies in schools and theaters worldwide. Her powerful storytelling and unflinching examination of societal issues have inspired subsequent generations of playwrights, artists, and activists to use their art as a tool for social change.