Written By: Ben Cosgrove

So many scenes from the August 28, 1963, March on Washington are now familiar to so many of us and the cadence of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is so much a part of the national consciousness it’s easy forget that for the hundreds of thousands of people who marched and rallied that day, the event was wholly, thrillingly new.

There had been, of course, other civil rights protests, marches and demonstrations. But none had been so large (estimates range from 200,000 to 300,00 people) and none garnered so much attention before, during and, especially, after the event itself.

The landmark 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, for example, which also took place in the nation’s capital, had shown everyone—segregationists and civil rights proponents—that large, peaceable rallies in the heart of Washington were not only possible, but were necessary if the movement was going to achieve its central, early goals of desegregation and voting rights reform.

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But the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was on a scale so much larger than anything that had come before that it is rightly recalled as a touchstone moment for the Civil Rights movement: a single event so significant that the history of the movement can, in a sense, be measured in terms of Before the March, and After the March. The day is remembered almost exclusively for MLK’s “Dream” speech, famously delivered to the throngs from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

(“I Have a Dream” was, in a way, a work in progress. King had delivered a speech to tens of thousands of people in Detroit several months before, for example, that included several sections and phrases that he included in his Washington address.)

Here LIFE.com presents a selection of pictures most of which never ran in LIFE magazine commemorating that day. What is especially moving about so many of these pictures (those shot “on the ground” by Paul Schutzer, in particular) is that they illustrate the scene as witnessed not by those who led and organized the event, but by those in the crowd. There is huge emotion here, and excitement and the photos evince a palpable sense of inclusion. One is left with a feeling that power was, if only for a moment, passing to the people.

Liz Ronk edited this gallery for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the crowd during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Francis Miller The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Scene from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Scene from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Scene from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Scene from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Lena Horne at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Lena Horne at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Scene from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Scene from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Scene from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Scene from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Joan Baez sings during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Joan Baez sang during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Odetta sings during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Odetta performed during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Scene from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Scene from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Actress and activist Ruby Dee, who with her husband, Ossie Davis, served as "master and mistress" of ceremonies at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Actress and activist Ruby Dee, who with her husband, Ossie Davis, served as “master and mistress” of ceremonies at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

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An overalled couple with the New York delegation joined the crowd by the Lincoln Memorial.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Scene from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Paul Schutzer The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

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