Meet the 1963 March on Washington Organizers

  • submit to reddit

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

John Lewis
Chairman, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)

SNCC Chairman John Lewis speaks from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. (Magnum Photos)

At 23, John Lewis was the youngest and, many felt, the most radical speaker at the March on Washington. He had already gained some recognition as an influential figure in the civil rights movement as a Freedom Rider. He was arrested and beaten for his participation, and photos of his bloodied face brought national attention to the Riders’ efforts to desegregate public buses in the South.

Speaking at the March on Washington was one of Lewis’s first responsibilities as SNCC chairman. He arrived in Washington with a speech that was critical of the Kennedy Administration’s planned civil rights bill and threatened that black Americans would march through the South “the way Sherman did” until all Jim Crow laws were abolished.

A. Philip Randolph, who had attempted twice to organize a peaceful mass demonstration in the nation’s capitol, pleaded with Lewis to edit the speech to give a less militant impression to the administration and the audience. “John, we’ve come this far together,” Lewis later remembered him saying. “Let us stay together.” Lewis agreed to remove the more strongly worded portions of the draft, but his speech was still remembered as the most radical of the event. He took America’s political parties to task for failing to take a stand against racist policies, asking, “What political leader can stand up and say, ‘My party is a party of principles?’…Where is our party? Where is the political party that will make it unnecessary to march on Washington?”

Watch previews of Bill Moyers’s interview with John Lewis premiering this weekend on Moyers & Company

  • submit to reddit
  • 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,”