The original speech, written by a committee of SNCC activists, included the rhetorical question, "I want to know, which side is the federal government on?
" Another dramatic line in the speech was this: "We will march through the South, through the heart of Dixie, the way Sherman did.
Several interviewees from the Civil Rights History Project discuss their memories of this momentous event in American history.
Sisters Dorie and Joyce Ladner grew up in Mississippi and became civil rights activists as teenagers in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
As a student at Jackson State University, Dorie was expelled for participating in a civil rights demonstration.
She then went to work for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, commonly pronounced "Snick"), a group founded in 1960 by college students who challenged segregation through sit-ins at restaurant counters, protest marches and other forms of non-violent direct action.SNCC chairman John Lewis's speech later that day on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial criticized the Kennedy administration's refusal to intervene in this and other deadly assaults on civil rights workers and community members in the South, which caused considerable difficulties.Joyce recalls the enormous numbers of marchers and also the presence of several notable figures on the stage such as Marlon Brando and Lena Horne.Joyce worked as a fundraiser with Bayard Rustin, Rachelle Horowitz and Eleanor Holmes (now Rep.Eleanor Holmes Norton) at the March headquarters in Harlem, while Dorie helped fundraise for members of SNCC to attend the march.Joyce goes on to talk about Lena Horne declining to be interviewed by the press and insisting instead that the young activists go on camera.As a result of Horne's insistence, Joyce was interviewed by NBC News, which made her mother proud to see her daughter on television.The Ladners contrast those memories with the shock and horror of returning to the South after the end of the March and attending the funeral of the four girls who were killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, just a few weeks later.Courtland Cox was a student at Howard University in Washington, D. Members of NAG soon joined with other student groups across the nation to found SNCC.We shall pursue our own ‘scorched earth' policy and burn Jim Crow to the ground — nonviolently." Cox in his telling of the story, recounts the reaction of Patrick O'Boyle, archbishop of Washington and a Kennedy administration supporter and speaker that day, along with others in the coalition of unions and religious and civic leaders.These speakers threatened to withdraw from the march unless criticism of the administration was removed from the speech.