1963 : Martin Luther King Leads Leads Largest Demonstration in Nation’s History in Detroit

June 23, 2018 all-day

Great March to Freedom March 1963 in Detroit

In the spring of 1963, Detroiters looked for a way to commemorate the anniversary of racial violence that tore through their city twenty years earlier that left 34 people dead and hundreds injured. The Detroit Council for Human Rights called for a “Walk to Freedom,” because many of “the same basic, underlying causes” of the 1943 disturbance were “still present.”

On June 23, 1963, an estimated 125,000 people marched down Detroit’s Woodward Avenue carrying placards and singing “We Shall Overcome.” National and state leaders who marched along with Reverend King included United Auto Workers president Walter Reuther, former Michigan governor John B. Swainson, and Detroit mayor Jerome Cavanagh.

The march ended at Cobo Hall where the Reverend King was cheered by thousands of marchers when he emphasized that segregation needed to end?(and) spoke of having a “dream” where whites and blacks were “walking together, hand in hand,” in harmony and equality.

Later that year, King was named the TIME magazine man of the year. The following year, he won the Nobel Peace Prize.


Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Global Freedom Struggle, includes a copy and recording of the speech given at the Great March To Freedom in Detroit, June 23, 1963…

Detroit’s Walk to Freedom courtesy of the Wayne State University Reuther Library.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Detroit Freedom Walk, Bob Garrett, Archivist, December 18, 2008.

Bill Laitner, “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 march along Woodward to be celebrated”, Detroit Free Press, February 26, 2013.

Commemorative Freedom Walk celebrates 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. speech, Michigan Public Radio, June 10, 2013.

Rochelle Riley, Aretha Franklin reflects on dad’s role in freedom walk, USA Today, June 21, 2013.

Marlon A. Walker and Eric D. Lawrence, “March for unity, justice marks 50th anniversary of King’s Walk to Freedom”, Detroit Free Press, June 22, 2013.

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