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

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. waves to supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the March on Washington. (AFP/Getty Images)

Today, the March on Washington is mostly remembered as the event where Martin Luther King, Jr., inspired millions with his “I Have a Dream” speech, describing an America that would someday, perhaps in his children’s lifetimes, move beyond centuries of racial intolerance.

By 1963, King already was well-respected as one of the leaders of the civil rights movement. In 1955, he took a lead role organizing the 382-day-long Montgomery bus boycott, rallying the Alabama city’s African-American community with a speech in which he declared, “if we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong.” He was threatened and his house was bombed, but the boycott succeeded; King emerged as the face of the civil rights movement, preaching a philosophy of nonviolence and love for one’s enemies inspired by his faith and the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.

In 1957, King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. From then until his assassination in 1968, King traveled over six million miles, gave over 2,500 speeches and advised Presidents Kennedy and Johnson on civil rights issues. He was arrested more than 20 times, assaulted at least four times and threatened many more. He became the youngest person ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was killed in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was supporting striking sanitation workers. During the last years of his life, King spoke more broadly about economic injustice issues for all Americans, culminating in 1968 with the Poor People’s Campaign that continued after his death.

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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,”