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

Roy Wilkins
Executive Secretary, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

Roy Wilkins of the NAACP. (AP Photo)

Roy Wilkins became active in the civil rights movement as a student at the University of Minnesota, serving as secretary of the local NAACP chapter. He was hired as assistant secretary of the national organization in 1931.

In 1955, he was named executive secretary, and quickly made a name for himself as an articulate spokesman for the civil rights movement. He frequently testified at congressional hearings and was consulted on issues of race by Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter. He was also a founder and chairman of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), a group composed of over 100 civic, labor and religious organizations. From 1957, the LCCR was instrumental in coordinating legislative campaigns on behalf of every major civil rights law.

Wilkins believed in achieving reform by working together with legislators and was skeptical of radicalism and even of mass demonstrations like the March for Jobs and Freedom. Nevertheless he spoke passionately at the march about the need for lawmakers to fully embrace the civil rights movement and commit to being on the right side of history: “We came here to petition our lawmakers to be as brave as our sit-ins and our marchers, to be as daring as James Meredith, to be as unafraid as the nine children of Little Rock…” He also demanded that the civil rights bill that was under consideration in Congress be made stronger.

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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,”