How Rochester newspapers covered the March on Washington

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Sixty years ago, hundreds of thousands descended on Washington, D.C., calling for civil rights, fair wages, and better job opportunities for Blacks.

News10NBC wondered how the march and King’s speech was portrayed in newspapers the day of the speech and the day after.

Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean went to the Rochester Public Library downtown, got out the old microfilm, and scrolled back to April 28th, 1963 with the help of librarian Michelle Finn.

We went looking for the headlines, photos, and articles on Dr. Martin Luther King, his “I Have a Dream” speech, and the March on Washington in the “Democrat & Chronicle” and the old “Rochester Times-Union.”

Here’s what we found and did not find.

The headlines in the “Democrat & Chronicle” highlighted a “jittery” Washington where were nervous.

The day after King’s speech, it mentioned the size of the crowd – twice what was expected – but focused on “no violence” and “three arrests.”

The wire stories printed by the “D&C” did not include Dr. King’s name.

On the 28th, the Times-Union had a photo of the marchers on the National Mall, but the headline was a “quiet, orderly” march.

On the 19th, the picture on the front page wasn’t Dr. King. It was the garbage left by the marchers.

To get insight on this, Brean turned to Dr. Jeffrey McCune Jr., a professor of African-American literature and culture and lead architect of Black studies at the University of Rochester.

Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: “When you look at some of the photos, headlines, what do you see and do you not see?”

Dr. Jeffrey McCune Jr.: “What’s interesting here is that there seems to be a real emphasis on the march and it being non-violent, as if there was an expectation that the folks were going to act in chaos.”

Dr. McCune Jr.: “The march was clearly a march for jobs and freedom and it was about workers and compensation and equal opportunities and all those things, right? But then we get a visual of the trash that was left after the march.”

Dr. McCune Jr.: “This idea of the uncivilized Black person has been here since forever.”

Brean: “I didn’t know what to expect when I went looking for these clippings. But I was surprised that I did not see huge pictures of King and the words ‘I have a dream.’ I expected that to be the headline and it’s not there.”

Dr. McCune Jr.: “I actually think that’s very common looking back that folks would think that Martin Luther King was everywhere.” 33″

Dr. McCune Jr.: “But the significance of the march was heightened in media. The gravitas of 200,000 in a space, traveling by automobiles, cars, however they could get there, was the story of the day. ‘I Have a Dream” was only popularized after King’s death.”

Brean: “Let’s fast forward 60 years.”

Dr. McCune Jr: “Absolutely.”

Brean: “If our viewers take the time and look through these headlines and read the stories, is there something we can learn now?”

Dr. McCune Jr.: “Part of what we learn looking at 1963 is that we are often a media of distraction.”

Brean: “The garbage on the street. The debris.”

Dr. McCune Jr.: “The garbage. The debris.”

He says the focus should remain on the message: Dr. King’s message.

Dr. McCune Jr.: “We have come to ‘cash a check,’ he said, a check that has come back ‘insufficient funds.’ We were guaranteed inalienable rights but yet we can’t get a good education. We were guaranteed voting rights, but yet we can’t get to the polls. So for me, I think we can learn not to be distracted by these marginal ideas and headlines but rather to focus on the people and the particular issues.”

Here’s a look at how the Rochester newspapers covered the March on Washington:

Here’s how other newspapers in New York covered the event: