Unknown Historical Facts About the March on Washington in 1963

Posted: Friday, August 30, 2013 by Bryan Troupe in

Did you know... that there was only one woman speaker at the March on Washington in 1963? Her name was Daisy Bates; she was former president of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP and also a longtime board member of the national NAACP. She was allowed to speak for a little over a minute. Here is her entire speech:

Mr. Randolph, friends, the women of this country, Mr. Randolph, pledge to you, to Martin Luther King, Roy Wilkins and all of you fighting for civil liberties, that we will join hands with you as women of this country. Rosa Gragg, vice president; Dorothy Height, the National Council of Negro Women; the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority; the Methodist Church women—all the women—pledge that we will join hands with you. We will kneel-in, we will sit-in, until we can eat in any corner in the United States. We will walk until we are free, until we can walk to any school and take our children to any school in the United States. And we will sit-in, and we will kneel-in, and we will lie-in, if necessary, until every Negro in America can vote. This we pledge you, the women of America.

The only other woman to even touch the microphone to speak was only able to utter one word – “Hello” – before the microphone was snatched away. Her name is Gloria Richardson. Richardson was then co-founder of the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee in Maryland, which was in the midst of a campaign to desegregate public institutions like schools and hospitals. She went on to be friends with Malcolm X. She is now 91 years old.

In her own words:  I was going to tell them, "You all just sit here until they pass that civil rights bill, even if it is a weak one." And I said, "Hello." And they took [the microphone]…

You can read/listen to her entire interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! here.

Did you know... that Rosa Parks, who launched Dr. Martin Luther King into stardom in Montgomery, also attended the March in Washington in ’63? Rosa Parks also was not allowed to speak at the “monumental” event.

Did you know... that during the March in 1963, the Justice Department tapped the microphone of the speakers? Amy Goodman, an investigative journalist and host of the show Democracy Now! reports that the Justice Department had control over the microphone. If there was a call for insurrection by one of the speakers, then the microphone would be cut and the song “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” by Mahalia Jackson would be played over the loudspeakers. [read/listen here]

Here’s what Malcolm X had to say about the March in Washington a few months after the march happened:

When Martin Luther King failed to desegregate Albany, Georgia, the civil rights struggle in America reached this low point. King became bankrupt almost as a leader, plus even financially, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was in financial trouble. Plus, it was in trouble, period, with the people, when they failed to desegregate Albany, Georgia. Other Negro civil rights leaders, of so-called national stature, became fallen idols. As they became fallen idols, began to lose their prestige and influence, local Negro leaders began to stir up the masses. In Cambridge, Maryland, Gloria Richardson; in Danville, Virginia, and other parts of the country, local leaders began to stir up our people at the grassroots level. This was never done by these Negroes, whom you recognize, of national stature. They controlled you, but they never incited you or excited you. They controlled you. They contained you. They kept you on the plantation. [here]

During this same speech, Malcolm X also spoke of the “Big 6”. The "Big Six” were the six leading civil rights organizers at the time: Martin Luther King, James Farmer, John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young. In Malcolm’s own words:

The Negroes were out there in the streets. They were talking about how they were going to march on Washington.... That they were going to march on Washington, march on the Senate, march on the White House, march on the Congress, and tie it up, bring it to a halt, not let the government proceed. They even said they were going out to the airport and lay down on the runway and not let any airplanes land. I'm telling you what they said. That was revolution. That was revolution. That was the black revolution.

It was the grass roots out there in the street. It scared the white man to death, scared the white power structure in Washington, D.C. to death; I was there. When they found out that this black steamroller was going to come down on the capital, they called in ... these national Negro leaders that you respect and told them, "Call it off," Kennedy said. "Look you all are letting this thing go too far." And Old Tom said, "Boss, I can't stop it because I didn't start it." I'm telling you what they said. They said, "I'm not even in it, much less at the head of it." They said, "These Negroes are doing things on their own. They're running ahead of us." And that old shrewd fox, he said, "If you all aren't in it, I'll put you in it. I'll put you at the head of it. I'll endorse it. I'll welcome it. I'll help it. I'll join it."

But the white man put the Big Six ahead of it, made them the march. They became the march. They took it over. And the first move they made after they took it over, they invited Walter Reuther, a white man. They invited a priest, a rabbi and an old white preacher. Yes, an old white preacher. The same white elements that put Kennedy in power—labor, the Catholics, the Jews and liberal Protestants—same clique that put Kennedy in power joined the march on Washington.

It’s just like when you’ve got some coffee that’s too black, which means it’s too strong. What you do? You integrate it with cream; you make it weak. If you pour too much cream in, you won’t even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it’ll put you to sleep.

This is what they did with the March on Washington. They joined it. They didn’t integrate it; they infiltrated it. They joined it, became a part of it, took it over. And as they took it over, it lost its militancy. They ceased to be angry. They ceased to be hot. They ceased to be uncompromising. Why, it even ceased to be a march. It became a picnic, a circus, nothing but a circus, with clowns and all. You had one right here in Detroit—I saw it on television—with clowns leading it, white clowns and black clowns. I know you don’t like what I’m saying, but I’m going to tell you anyway, 'cause I can prove what I'm saying. If you think I’m telling you wrong, you bring me Martin Luther King and A. Philip Randolph and James Farmer and those other three, and see if they’ll deny it over a microphone. No, it was a sellout. It was a takeover. ... They controlled it so tight, they told those Negroes what time to hit town, where to stop, what signs to carry, what song to sing, what speech they could make, and what speech they couldn't make, and then told them to get out of town by sundown.... ["A People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn] [listen to excerpts of Malcolm X speech here]

And now you know….


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