1963 March on Washington record album
I hadn’t seen much on the auction house website to entice me, but I went to the auction anyway, not expecting to find anything I’d want to take home.
The bidding had gotten started when I arrived, so I decided to check out some tables farther away from the action to make sure I hadn’t missed anything on the website. On a table just beyond me, a bright orange cover illuminated among the other pieces around it. I was instantly drawn to the color, but then I saw what was printed on the cover:
“We Shall Overcome” in bold black letters.
Now, I was definitely intrigued. So I found my way closer to the item and saw an old photograph of protest signs and black and white marchers on the cover. Then I read these words: “Documentary of the March on Washington. Recording Produced by the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership.”
I had hit a jackpot, but I wasn’t the only person who understood the significance of this 78 phonograph album. Someone had already left a bid on it, so I figured it would not be easy to get it at a price I could live with.
The sleeve was a bit warped, and it had some nicks around three edges and slight tears at the open edge. A small cellophane pocket was attached at the lower right, indicating that the record may have been in a school or public library.
Excerpt from the end of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech from the album:
The sleeve listed “in order of appearance” the singers at the Aug. 28. 1963, march – including Joan Baez, Marian Anderson, Bob Dylan and Odetta – and speakers – including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., A. Philip Randolph, John Lewis and Bayard Rustin. It also included a statement that President Kennedy had made a week earlier about the march.
The events of that day were reproduced on vinyl by Broadside Records from tape recordings made by the Educational Radio Network.
The record had some scratches and smudges, but I was hoping that they were not deep enough to mar the sound. It didn’t matter, though, because this record was mine.
The record’s “intent is that people should not be deprived of this important documentary,” its label noted. Both the label and sleeve mentioned that proceeds would be used to “further the civil rights movement throughout the country.”
I later found inside the sleeve a four-page typed booklet of liner notes with song lyrics and text of the speeches – which made the album a double treat.
The album was first commercially published in 1964 under authorization of the leadership council, according to the website Searching for A Gem. The council was a coalition of seven civil rights groups that organized the march. Its membership included many of the people on the podium that day: King, Randolph, Whitney Young, Lewis and Roy Wilkins – all of whom spoke except for member Dorothy I. Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women. James Farmer was in jail in Louisiana for protesting and his speech was read.
Sis Cunningham of Broadside Records was enlisted to produce the album for a larger audience. She was one of the founders of Broadside magazine, which published the lyrics of folk songs. The album was released as Broadside 592 – the same inscription on the album I got at auction.
Broadside was a label of Folkways Records – which since 1948 had produced both popular music, documentaries and spoken word – which distributed the album. The Smithsonian acquired the label in 1987 and reissued the album as a CD.
The album sleeve comes in various colors, according to Searching for a Gem website, based on what paper was on the printer at Folkways at that time. The colored papers were slipped over a black cover.
This album was one of many produced by various labels during the Civil Rights Movement, including ones by popular artists such as Nina Simone and Sam Cooke. Songs and interviews of marchers on the streets were also recorded and distributed, including “The Sit-In Story (1961) and “Freedom Songs: Selma, Alabama (1965)” by Folkways.
King apparently sought an injunction in late 1963 to stop several companies – including Twentieth Century Fox’s Movietone News – from releasing unauthorized albums of his “Dream” speech, a version of which he had given at a Detroit gathering. Fox Movietone News had distributed an album of speeches from the march, including King’s.
At the auction, fortunately for me, the left-bid was very low and I was able to get the album at a very good price.
Here are excerpts from the album:
Marian Anderson sings “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”
Bob Dylan sings “Only a Pawn in Their Game,” about the murder a few months earlier of civil rights activist Medgar Evans. The song was listed as “Ballad of Medgar Evers” on the album. This side of the album has more scratches.
Joan Baez sings “We Shall Overcome.”