Meet the 1963 March on Washington Organizers

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A.Philip Randolph Bayard Rustin Whitney Young Martin Luther King, Jr. Roy Wilkins James Farmer John Lewis Walter Reuther Eugene Carson Blake Mathew Ahmann Joachim Prinz

Mathew Ahmann
Executive Director, National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice (NCCIJ)

Mathew Ahmann, center, listens as Martin Luther King, Jr., front right, speaks during the March on Washington.

Mathew Ahmann, a Catholic layman, was a founder and director of the National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice. He first became involved in efforts to modernize the Catholic Church’s stance on race relations as a college student; he later moved to Chicago to pursue a master’s degree in sociology but became so focused on the civil rights movement that he left school to join the Chicago Catholic Interracial Council, serving as the director of the organization for several years. He formed the NCCIJ in the late 1950s.

As director, Ahmann played a major role in planning the National Conference on Religion and Race in January 1963, which was recognized as establishing the civil rights movement as a moral cause. At the time, the meeting was called “the most significant and historic convention for attacking racial injustice,” by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ahmann preferred to work quietly behind the scenes as an organizer, but he spoke eloquently at the March about the moral obligation of Americans to reject segregation and racial inequality, directly addressing Americans who were skeptical of the movement. “Who can call himself a man, say he is created by God and at the same time take part in a system of segregation?” he said. “Never before has the direction we must take been so clear…The balance yet lies with the silent and fearful American. It is he who…must act if a wholesome and integrated community of Negro and white Americans is to be built…”

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  • Hillbilly Populist

    The “unknown” person in the above photo is Joseph Rauh, prominent civil rights lawyer and leader of Americans for Democratic Action.

  • Albert Terry

    As an Air Force vet. and student at ASU during those turbulent times, it was easier to dislike and distrust most whites, especially southerners. But more objective reflections over the years have forced me to remember some wonderful, caring white friends from all over, especially in the South, where it was risky to identify with African Americans. Away from public glare, poor farmers who lived near my family all shared what we had together. Mutual respect was pretty rampant back then, and special.
    I well remember interracial revivals, and poor whites working late into the night until they recovered my brother in a drowning accident; I remember my mother having me take my sister to nurse a white neighbor, whose baby had some complications at birth; and many, many others across a racial divide.
    Today hate mongers are paid handsomely to spew some pretty awful half truths and outright lies against others who have little or no voice to counter this hurtful bile; it is tearing at the very fabric of what makes Americans the envy of the known world. And as the Scriptures tell us, ” a house divided against itself, can’t stand”. May God have mercy on such willful ingratitude and careless stewardship.

  • Anonymous

    Are you sure there were no women organizers for the March?

  • PD

    Yes, please fix this image — it is kind of outrageous that you don’t identify Joe Rauh — he played an important role in the civil rights movement and in this march

  • Anonymous

    Thank you both for the tip. We have updated the caption.

    –John @ Moyers

  • Judith A. Cartisano

    Where are the women?

  • Calvin Pipher

    absolutely true.

  • KateOlive

    Eleanor Holmes Norton helped organize the march.

  • Lamerkhav

    but there is nothing why for example Phillip Randolph was marginalized. he was a Communist. Up today they prefer to silence the strong left wing Communist and Anarchist influence on and in the Civil Rights Movement. and this make all the story unfair and fake

  • MC55

    Ironic and sad that the women were overlooked.

  • Gail K Beil

    Dorothy Height, also one of the organizers, sat on the stage with the men outlined above. She was president of the National Counci of Negro Women and one of two – the other being John Lewis, who were left out when the nation began referring to the “Big Four,” (Young, King,Wilkins and Farmer) Farmer referred to the civil rights leaders as “The Big Six,”