Shortly before the March on Washington in August 1963, President John F Kennedy tried to convince civil rights leaders that the demonstration was a bad idea. The civil rights legislation he was trying to steer through Congress was not yet at committee stage and he feared the march would damage its chances of passing.
‘We want success in Congress, not just a big show at the Capitol,’ he told them. ‘Some of these people are looking for an excuse to be against us. I don’t want to give any of them a chance to say, “Yes, I’m for the Bill, but I’m damned if I will vote for it at the point of a gun.”’