By Rhonda Bishop
Policy Associate, Education and Young Women Engagement, YWCA USA
Many remember the iconic wave and the infamous “I Have a Dream” speech. Some may even remember the solemn faces standing stoically behind Dr. King, looking out over 250,000 peaceful protesters gathered on the National Mall. Even fewer can remember the women who stood alongside the podium on that humid August day. The noticeable absence of women speaking on that podium serves as an uncomfortable reminder to all of us: the same movement that called for the end of racial discrimination had within it a blatant undertone of male chauvinism and gender discrimination.
I am too young to remember the March on Washington, as I was born in 1959. But as I reflect on it 50 years later and having learned about it as I grew older, I think about the sacrifices of those who came before me so that I could, live, eat, shop, obtain an education, work and thrive as a full citizen in America.
Tomorrow marks the official anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. We have been commemorating the YWCA’s historical involvement as one of the sponsors of the original March with reflections from our YWCA leaders about their experiences of that day. A few of their personal reminiscences are below.
Jeanine Potter Donaldson, Executive Director of the YWCA Elyria/Lorain, shared her memories of the March:
Saturday, August 24th was truly an event to remember…
50 years ago Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led thousands of supporters in Washington DC in a march that allowed him to give one of the most historic speeches to date… “I Have A Dream.” This speech was a direct call to end racism, injustice and unemployment.
Since 1905 the YWCA National Capital Area has always been at the forefront of advocating for not just women’s rights but for rights of all mankind. Women have been treated as second class for far too long and we are committed to making sure that our voices are heard!
Dorothy Height was an active civil rights leader but did not speak at the March on Washington.
As a kid growing up in New York City, I had the privilege of having the Rev. Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker as my Senior Pastor at Canaan Baptist Church. Dr. Walker had previously served as Chief of Staff to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and as such, our congregation and worship traditions were deeply shaped around the traditions begun and sacrifices made during the Civil Rights Movement. That experience, coupled my with mother’s special brand of intellectual activism – I could recite Langston Hughes by age 6 – make this 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom a special time for personal and professional reflection.
By Rhonda Bishop Policy Associate, Education and Young Women Engagement, YWCA USA
This week, we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, and the women leaders who played integral and often unacknowledged roles in that important event. To continue our celebration this week, our theme for today’s Top Five on Friday post is slightly different. We’re sharing the Top Eight Unsung “She-roes” of the civil rights movement — women who fought for freedom and equality for all people, and whose names we hope you will share with your friends and family as important icons of American history.
“We Demand an End to Bias Now!” was inscribed in big letters on the March on Washington rally sign that Bernice Cosey-Pulley, now 86, carried in 1963. She still has two of the rally signs from the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom perfectly laminated in her living room, as she told me when I asked her about her experience there 50 years ago.