On August 28, 1963, 300,000 people gathered on the National Mall in front of the Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C. with one goal in mind — equal rights for all. What ensued was never to be forgotten. One speech by Martin Luther King Jr. and a march from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial exposed racial inequalities that plagued a growing nation. The march, commonly referred to as the March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom, is widely credited with spurring the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Today would have marked King’s 86th birthday. That infamous march in 1963 wasn’t the first that he led, and it wouldn’t be the last. In fact, he was assassinated on the day he had planned to lead a protest march in Memphis, Tenn.
It may seem trivial, but we took note of what people wore at these gatherings. Looking back at the protesters now, plain and practical was the best route to take. They dressed like the people they were trying to influence. One for nonviolent protests, MLK made his point loud and clear by remaining well-dressed and well-mannered.
The youth mostly stuck to comfortable shoes — sneakers and high-tops, and flats for the girls.
True, it was much more common to dress formally with your everyday attire in the 60s, but they’re casual enough as if to say they don’t expect there to be trouble. This is contrary to what the government may have expected. The Pentagon readied 19,000 troops, and the jails shifted inmates to other prisons to make room for those they expected to arrest in mass arrests. When that didn’t happen, it set the stage for protests for years to come.
Certainly, we can’t pinpoint the outlandish fashion as the reason for any subsequent violent protests, but why not play it safe and stick to the basics? On this day, we honor Martin Luther King Jr., a nonviolent nonthreatening figure in the name of peace and equality.