The March on Washington Movement (MOWM) was a new social movement organized by A. Philip Randolph in response to combat the repressive social system of Jim Crow, basic economic concerns, and the wartime emergency. The work of activists in the MOWM eventually led to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The outcome of the march would not have been possible without the work of those who made it happen.
Memories from those who were at the march…
In Patrik Henry Bass’s book titled Like a Mighty Stream, he documents the details of that day and how it came about through the stories of those who were there to experience it. One of those individuals– only 13 years old at the time– was Beverly Alston: “My fondest memories of the day– which still seems the hottest day in history– was the amount of people in attendance. It was a very noisy day. Everyone was singing and there were babies resting on their fathers’ shoulders. Dr. King seemed to sum up everyone’s feelings of the time with his speech. Everyone was friendly, sharing, caring. I remember people turning the reflecting pool into a swimming pool. I remember seeing thousands and thousands of feet. I was one of the lucky ones able to touch the water. The March brought the realization of the struggle to me, and it certainly contributed to the successful implementation of civil rights legislation at that time, and keeping its memory alive serves to continue the progression… albeit not necessarily race-based. Culturally, there has been tremendous progress over the past forty years. Black awareness and self-determination has soared. Politically, I just don’t think we’ve made enough progress” (72).
What is important to note about the MOWM is that it relied on the work of Black women activists, yet never created a space for Black women’s activism– the male leaders of the movement did not address the sexual discrimination that Black women were facing. One woman who brought attention to this issue and played a prominent role in the movement was Pauli Murray, who later recalled the capital is where she “first became conscious of the twin evil of discriminatory sex bias, which I quickly labeled Jane Crow.”Murray wrote a letter to Randolph in 1963 and stated that she had “been increasingly perturbed over the blatant disparity between the major role which Black women have played and are playing in the crucial grass-roots levels of our struggle and the minor role of leadership they have been assigned in the national policy-making decisions.” Anna Arnold Hedgeman, Ethel Payne, and Neva Ryan also played prominent roles. The lack of recognition for Black women in the movement displays the intersectional experience of facing racial and sexual discrimination simultaneously. Nonetheless, the women of the movement persisted, and continued to dedicate themselves to working towards a more just future for all people.