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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