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The March on Washington in Color

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Protesters at the March on Washington, Aug. 28, 1963, advocating for voting rights and an end to police brutality. Original black and white negative by Marion S. Trikosko. Prints and Photographs Division. Colorized by Jordan J. Lloyd.

The following is a guest post from our friends at Unsplash, a platform for sharing millions of free-to-use photos. You can visit the Library of Congress page on Unsplash here.

Today marks the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington—when a quarter-million people came together to draw attention to the continued challenges and inequalities faced by Black Americans. The two dozen or so color photographs from that day and its leaders are locked down under expensive licenses, inaccessible to the general public, limiting the usage and awareness of one of the most defining moments in American history.

Today, we fix this.

Marchers cooling off during the day. Original black and white negative by Warren K. Leffler. Prints and Photographs Division. Colorized by Jordan J. Lloyd.

With the help of the team at the Library and visual historian Jordan Lloyd, we’ve assembled a set of images with no known restrictions from the March, its leaders and segregated America. The images are sourced from the Library, the US National Archives and the Seattle Municipal Archives. Lloyd has painstakingly restored and recolored the images in vivid detail to bring them back to life.

The resulting images bring the extraordinary scenes from the past into the present. 

Without the historical abstraction of black and white, the people, their hope for progress and their injustice take on a new perspective. They feel both historic and current—like they could equally belong in a history textbook and a news article from 2020. They remind us how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.

By releasing the images in color, we hope that these images can be used by students, teachers, activists, creators and writers to retell these important moments, to celebrate these heroes of equality, and to put the events of the past into the context of present day.

You can find the original images on the Library’s Unsplash profile and the colorized versions on Lloyd’s Unsplash profile, Unseen Histories.

People tend to think of history as an abstract concept: a time when their grandparents or great grandparents existed in black and white; and anything before photography is something you learn exclusively about through textbooks at school,” Lloyd said. “The truth is somewhat more vivid: records of where lives and events intersect were as real to the people who lived and saw it as we experience it today.”

The crowd assembles in front of the Lincoln Memorial to hear speeches. Original black and white negative by Warren K. Leffler. Prints and Photographs Division. Colorized by Jordan J. Lloyd.

“When I view the work,” he said, “looking at the finished photographs, they would not look out of place in coverage of protests in 2020. If that doesn’t make history feel real to me, then I don’t know what will.”

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Comments (5)

  1. As always, the Library of Congress proves that it has its “ears to the rails.” The staff members provide an incredible sensitivity to the relevant issues of today. I am grateful that the LOC staff thought to colorize photographs from the March on Washington of 1963. We need all the help we can get to understand “color in America” in 2020. I fear America is at a more terrifying crossroads today.

  2. This historical moments are like being in a Time Capsule, and discovering that there is a glitch because we are now in 2020, and it’s the same all over again. We know for facts that humanity has made considerable discoveries, women are able to advanced themselves in Corporations and are now respected as Doctor’s besides being just nurses. Yes, 2020 is fill with many glitches, so we must come together in solidarity in fixing this big mess of cruelty to mankind.

  3. Interesting to see these and ponder the implications of colorization. Meanwhile, for comparison, National Geographic has assembled a presentation of James Blair’s actual color images of this iconic event. I am not sure the URL can be included in this comment (it’s typed at the end), but the page may be searchable by its title “Rare color photographs offer intimate glimpse of 1963 March on Washington.”

  4. This site provides a wealth of gems in the form of color photographs. My students are so much more engaged with the primary resources from the Library of Congress collection.

    • So glad to hear it!

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