The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, celebrated 50 years ago today, is the top “Historic Pilgrimage,” according to National Geographic’s Places of a Lifetime book series. (National Geographic Books)
- The National Geographic article identifies the 1963 March on Washington as the world’s top “pilgrimage.” Are students familiar with the concept of a pilgrimage? Can they identify a pilgrimage not listed in the article?
- A pilgrimage is a spiritual journey, usually to a site of some religious significance. The world’s most famous and popular pilgrimage is probably the hajj, undertaken by millions of Muslims every year. The hajj, a pillar of Islam, is the journey to the holy city of Mecca that all Muslims must take at least once.
- Can students identify how the March on Washington is different from other pilgrimages on the list? Why do they think National Geographic calls the march a “pilgrimage”?
- The March on Washington is not a religious pilgrimage, although many civil rights leaders were associated with the march were also religious leaders—pastors, priests, rabbis. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister, “I am quite aware of the fact that there are persons who believe firmly in nonviolence who do not believe in a personal God, but I think every person who believes in nonviolent resistance believes somehow that the universe in some form is on the side of justice.”
- Many people consider the March on Washington a pilgrimage because of the march’s moral significance.
- The National Mall, and the Lincoln Memorial in particular, may be considered a secular “shrine” to freedom and justice. Our “media spotlight” on the March on Washington offers a more in-depth look at the Lincoln Memorial and the concept of public spaces.
- Read our “media spotlight” on the March on Washington, focusing on the First Amendment. How do the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment protect both religious and secular pilgrimages like the March on Washington?
- The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom to protest the government: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”