The March on Washington of 1963 and Black Women
A sad but not-so-well-known moment for African Americans
When the March on Washington was held 60 years ago, on August 28, 1963, most Americans did not know that Black women were mostly excluded to address the gathering. It is one of the most disappointing moments in the history of the Civil Rights movement. It is, in fact, embarrassing considering the moment.
When Dr. King’s holiday is celebrated each year in January, the nation hears clips of the speech and his footage of the quarter million people who had come. But rarely, if ever, do you hear about the backstory of Black women being denied the chance to speak.
In H.H. Leonards’ recent biography on Rosa Parks (Beyond the Bus), Leonards wrote that Parks was “dumbfounded” by the fierce opposition of the men to equal participation by women in the March on Washington D.C. It didn’t become a moment of retreat for Parks, but rather, it prompted her determination to fight for the rights of all people. Prior to the march, Black women tried to make the case for them to receive speaking parts. It didn’t work. The New Republic wrote about the sad moment in 2014:
“In the end, the men had their way. They not only banned women from speaking but grouped the women to be honored during the march with the wives of the male civil rights leaders, directing them to march together, separately from and behind the men.”
It is pretty sad this happened because women did some of the most important work during the movement. They were the strength of grassroots efforts. Dorothy Height (she was an official organizer of the march but did not speak), Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Diane Nash, and JoAnn Robinson are just a few of the many African-American women who did hard work in the movement. They did some of the most courageous and important work.
Robinson, in particular, made the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 occur through her own efforts. Robinson organized the specifics of the boycott. Robinson designed the communication system initially to make sure all African Americans were aware not to ride the buses in Montgomery. Robinson, by being the key player in the boycott, risked her life and…