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

Whitney Young
Executive Director, National Urban League

Whitney Young appears on the CBS public affairs program Newsmakers, August 18, 1963. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

At the time of the March and throughout the 1960s, Whitney Young was the head of the National Urban League, the world’s largest civil rights organization. Elected in 1961, Young was a charismatic civil rights leader effective in bridging the gap between white political and business leaders and black activists. During his decade-long tenure, the organization grew from 60 to 98 chapters and largely shifted its focus from black middle-class concerns to those of the urban poor. He also fought for better treatment of black members of the armed forces and employment for veterans. He served as a consultant on racial issues to both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

Young was approached by A. Philip Randolph early on in the planning stages of the March; his participation was credited as garnering the support of other March leaders, including Roy Wilkins and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He also proved to be a vital fundraiser for the event.

He gave an impassioned speech at the March, stressing the importance of every participant continuing the fight after the event was over: “…This march must go beyond this historic moment. For the true test of the rededication and the commitment which should flow from this meeting will be in recognition that however impressed or however incensed our congressional representatives are by this demonstration, they will not act because of it alone. We must support the strong. We must give courage to the timid. We must remind the indifferent, and we must warn the opposed. Civil rights, which are God given and constitutionally guaranteed, are not negotiable in 1963.”

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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,”