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

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin poses in front of the National Headquarters of the March on Washington in Harlem (170 West 130th St.), August 1, 1963. (AP Photo)

Although he was one of the most influential activists of the 20th century, Bayard Rustin was often relegated to behind-the-scenes roles in the civil rights movement because he was openly gay. He was the deputy director and chief organizer of the March on Washington, and is often credited with its success. In the run-up to the March, Rustin and his team were responsible for all the logistics, from deciding how much podium time each speaker would get and training the off-duty police officers and firefighters who served as marshalls to making sure there would be sufficient number of busses, portable toilets and sandwiches for the marchers.

Rustin grew up in Pennsylvania and was raised Quaker by his grandmother. As a young man, he briefly belonged to the Communist Party and was a conscientious objector during World War II. He worked for years as a deputy to A. Philip Randolph, and, at Randolph’s request, traveled to Montgomery to advise Martin Luther King, Jr., during the bus boycotts. Rustin is often credited as having convinced King to make his message one of nonviolence, at a time when the reverend was receiving death threats and had his home protected by armed supporters. It was at Randolph’s prompting that Rustin was chosen to be the lead organizer of the March on Washington.

Rustin was a champion of numerous cause throughout his life. He protested on behalf of Japanese internees, draft resisters and chain-gang prisoners, and was also active in the labor, anti-nuclear and anti-apartheid movements. His final cause was gay rights. Toward the end of his life, in the 1980s, America began, gradually, to catch up with Rustin, who had been frank about his sexuality and proud of it for nearly his whole life — as one former colleague told The Washington Post, Rustin “never heard there was a closet.” When he passed away in 1987, he was remembered as a hero by both the African-American and LGBT civil rights movements.

Watch Brother Outsider, a documentary film that premiered on PBS’s POV series.

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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,”