We Were There: The U.S. Marshals Role at Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr.’s Washington, D.C. March
By Dave Turk, USMS 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 & 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