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We Were There


The U.S. Marshals Role at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Washington, D.C. March

by David Turk, U.S. Marshals Historian

Although the U.S. Marshals are often linked with civil rights, most recall our crucial role in desegregating educational institutions in the South during the 1960. In reality, our personnel sometimes stayed "behind the scenes" to ensure an event went smoothly. This is what occurred on August 28, 1963, when Dr. Martin Luther King led the Washington March for Jobs and Freedom.

Fears of violence against the marchers worried the Department of Justice, who coordinated with select personnel within our ranks in handling a number of organizational and protective tasks. It also was an operation of statistics. The agency kept track of the many modes of transport for the marchers. From these it was determined that 749 buses, 16 planes, and 23 trains–carrying 54,120 people, arrived in Washington, D.C. However, there were many more marchers already in town, and an unidentified number who arrived in automobiles. This was done to configure what kind of protective measures were necessary.

The composition of the duties fell to fewer, but generally senior, officials. Our then Chief U.S. Marshal, James J.P. McShane and his assistant Jack Cameron, were both present with a number of officials from different law enforcement agencies. Cameron was posted on the corner of 15th and Constitution, NW, keeping track of the buses. "No disorder," he wrote, "some singing and clapping on the Ellipse." Some deputies from the Washington, D.C. district office, under U.S. Marshal Luke Moore, including Deputy U.S. Marshal Richard Kirkland Bowden, worked within the crowd to ensure safety.

By 9 a.m. the crowd was heavy. When the program began a half-hour later, Cameron noted "everything going well Miss Joan Bayez [sic] singing."; Before noon the marchers began slowly moving to the Lincoln Memorial. The march and the program proceeded unblemished. Even after the speeches and singing ended, our personnel stayed until after 8 p.m. that evening–when only one bus remained.

Although U.S. Marshals were not readily seen at the famous march, we were there.