The National Mall: Coming together in America’s backyard

Located in the heart of Washington, the National Mall hosts almost 3,000 events every year.

Ever since the Civil War, when the Union army organized, trained and camped on the parkland of the National Mall, the area has played a role in major political, social and cultural movements in the United States. It is the site of rallies, protests, festivals and celebrations, and on January 20 it will host the presidential inauguration of President-elect Trump.

Civil rights

Protesters carrying signs on National Mall (© AP Images)
(© AP Images)

The Mall has long been a site for political activism. In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech standing before the Lincoln Memorial and looking east toward the Washington Monument and U.S. Congress. Delivering his speech as part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, King called for civil and economic rights for African Americans in the United States.

Women’s reproductive rights

Aerial view of crowd filling National Mall (NPS)

In the wake of a controversial Supreme Court case, the March for Women’s Lives in 2004 drew between 500,000 and 800,000 people to the Mall in support of women’s reproductive rights and health care.

Vietnam War protests

Packed crowd of people (© AP Images)
(© AP Images)

In the fall of 1969, during the Vietnam War, more than 500,000 people came to Washington to protest the U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. The gathering was one of a series of anti–Vietnam War protests mainly comprising young people who chanted, sang and marched to show their opposition to the military intervention.

Kite festivals

Boy flying kite near Washington Monument (© AP Images)
(© AP Images)

The large open area connecting major memorials and museums does not just host protest marches. Each year, at the start of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, the sky of the National Mall fills with kites. To kick off the festival, families come to the Mall to fly kites and to take part in a variety of competitions, demonstrations and Rokkaku kite battles.

Political movements

People and flags in front of U.S. Capitol (© AP Images)
(© AP Images)

The Mall has also been used as a meeting place for groups to organize politically. The Million Man March in 1995 was a rally of African-American men to bring issues of black America into the political conversation. Roughly 850,000 people gathered on the Mall to hear speeches and register to vote.

Religious ceremonies

Man waving to crowd on National Mall (NPS)

As one of the most prominent communal spaces in Washington, the Mall is also home to religious events. When Pope Francis visited the United States in 2015, he led hundreds of thousands of people in prayer from the steps of the Capitol, overlooking the Mall.


Crowd filling National Mall (© AP Images)
(© AP Images)

Every four years, Americans come to Washington from across the country to gather on the National Mall and watch the inauguration of the president of the United States. In 2009, crowds filled the Mall to capacity for President Obama’s inauguration as the 44th president. On January 20, Trump will take his place on the stage at the Capitol and be sworn in as the 45th president.