Tribute to Women: Spotlighting the 6 Women Honored During the First March on WashingtonHistorians in the News
tags: African American history, March on Washington, womens history
Before Rep. John Lewis' death in July, many news outlets reported that he was the last living speaker from the original March on Washington in 1963; but the last time I checked, Gloria Richardson is still alive. In their defense, she only said "hello," before a man yanked the microphone out of her hands.
The stories we’re told about the Civil Rights Movement often link power with Black men—King, Carmichael, Lewis. And the tales of the few Black women whose names we do know—Coretta, Rosa—are hardly the full story. What reaches our ears are myths of the quiet, gentle Black women who supported the men in the fight, as if they didn’t also risk their lives for equality.
In history, oftentimes violence is either seen as gendered (translation: white women) or racialized (translation: Black men). When those wires cross, there’s an electrical malfunction; a break in the circuit; the lights flicker. Black women are left navigating in the dark with only each other to grasp on to.
If it weren’t for a Black woman, Anna Arnold Hedgeman, there wouldn’t have been any women on stage on August 28, 1963. In fact, according to Professor Jennifer Scanlon, author of Until There is Justice: The Life of Anna Arnold Hedgeman, there wouldn’t have been a march at all. Hedgeman heard civil rights leaders A. Philip Randolph and Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr were both planning large marches that year and convinced them to join forces, effectively creating the March on Washington.
When Hedgeman and Dorothy Height, the head of the National Council of Negro Women, discovered that no women were listed as speakers, they urged the men to add female voices. But the men had their excuses ready: There were already too many speakers; it would be hard to pick just one; if they did choose one, a catfight would ensue. Hedgeman, the only woman on the organizing committee for the March, was forced to compromise.
The men decided they’d have a group of women stand for recognition. The “Tribute to Women” highlighted six women: Gloria Richardson, Rosa Parks, Diane Nash, Myrlie Evers, Prince Lee, and Daisy Bates.
The women being honored weren’t even allowed to march with the men. On the morning of August 28, they shuffled down Independence Avenue, while the men strolled down Constitution Avenue with the media. Daisy Bates gave the introduction of their Tribute. Her 142-word speech, written by a man, focused on women supporting the men of the movement.
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