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 Jachim Prinz

A. Philip Randolph
Founder, Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters

A. Philip Randolph in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

For A. Philip Randolph, the March on Washington had been over 20 years in the making; its success and the resulting passage of the Civil Rights Act were two of his major achievements.

Randolph became involved in the labor moment in 1912 when he founded an employment agency called the Brotherhood of Labor in New York City, and made his first efforts to unionize black workers. In 1925 he founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters after he witnessed how African-American porters were demeaned by white passengers who addressed them as “George” no matter what their actual names were, among other things. Randolph made it his mission to gain the union’s inclusion in the American Federation of Labor, which frequently barred African Americans from membership. He won this battle in 1937, making the BSCP the first officially recognized African-American union in the country.

In the 1940s Randolph turned his attention to racial discrimination in the defense industry. He threatened to organize a march on Washington to protest unfair labor practices, telling President Franklin D. Roosevelt that 100,000 black Americans were expected to attend the march. The President tried unsuccessfully to dissuade Randolph, but six days before the march was set to take place, FDR signed an executive order that made thousands of defense jobs available to African Americans. In 1948, using the same tactic, Randolph convinced President Truman to sign an executive order banning segregation in the military.

Because of his long history organizing black workers, by the time the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom took place Randolph was seen as the “elder statesman” of the Big Six. He was instrumental in organizing the event and in reassuring the federal government that the March would be orderly and peaceful. In his speech at the event, he spoke firmly about the nature of the March: “We are not a pressure group. … We are not a mob. We are the advance guard of a massive moral revolution for jobs and freedom.”

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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,”