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

Mathew Ahmann
Executive Director, National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice (NCCIJ)

Mathew Ahmann, center, listens as Martin Luther King, Jr., front right, speaks during the March on Washington.

Mathew Ahmann, a Catholic layman, was a founder and director of the National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice. He first became involved in efforts to modernize the Catholic Church’s stance on race relations as a college student; he later moved to Chicago to pursue a master’s degree in sociology but became so focused on the civil rights movement that he left school to join the Chicago Catholic Interracial Council, serving as the director of the organization for several years. He formed the NCCIJ in the late 1950s.

As director, Ahmann played a major role in planning the National Conference on Religion and Race in January 1963, which was recognized as establishing the civil rights movement as a moral cause. At the time, the meeting was called “the most significant and historic convention for attacking racial injustice,” by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ahmann preferred to work quietly behind the scenes as an organizer, but he spoke eloquently at the March about the moral obligation of Americans to reject segregation and racial inequality, directly addressing Americans who were skeptical of the movement. “Who can call himself a man, say he is created by God and at the same time take part in a system of segregation?” he said. “Never before has the direction we must take been so clear…The balance yet lies with the silent and fearful American. It is he who…must act if a wholesome and integrated community of Negro and white Americans is to be built…”

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