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Planning the March

“[Bayard Rustin] wanted us to live that couple of months as if every single day might be the last day of your life.”

Norman Hill, National Program Director, Congress of Racial Equality

 

Organizing the March
The task of organizing the march was given to Bayard Rustin. He quickly established an office in Harlem and pulled together a group of the most trustworthy and dedicated staff he could find. Organizing the march involved thousands of details: arranging transportation, fundraising, contracting a sound system, printing leaflets and brochures, ordering toilets, and soothing egos. Organizers fanned out across the country to enlist the aid of community groups. As many as 1,500 churches, unions, and local organizations recruited marchers, raised money, and sent delegations to Washington.

At Headquarters

At Headquarters

Cleveland Robinson, chairman of the administrative committee, outside the march's Harlem headquarters.
Library of Congress

Calling for Women on the Podium
Anna Arnold Hedgeman, a veteran civil rights activist, was the only woman on the administrative committee of the march. Along with Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women, Hedgeman strongly urged that the march include a woman as speaker on the program. Their efforts were largely dismissed and the roles of women on the podium were principally ceremonial and as entertainers. Nonetheless, the contributions of thousands of women in all aspects of organizing helped make the march possible.

Photo of Anna Arnold Hedgeman

Photo of Anna Arnold Hedgeman

Bayard Rustin, Deputy Director and Organizer of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

Bayard Rustin, Deputy Director and Organizer of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

Within the civil rights community, Bayard Rustin was recognized as one of the most gifted and experienced organizers. A committed pacifist, he helped introduce nonviolent techniques into the movement. He participated in the first freedom rides to desegregate interstate busing in the South in 1947. He also organized several mass demonstrations in the 1940s and 1950s and served as a leading strategist of the Montgomery bus boycott. Because he was a former member of the Communist Party in the 1930s, a conscientious objector during World War II, and openly homosexual, many saw him as too controversial to play such a prominent role in the March on Washington.

Leaflet, The Time is Now

Leaflet, The Time is Now

Shortly after the march leaders had issued their call, they expanded the coalition to include leading white spokesmen. Joining the six were Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, President, National Council of Churches; Walter Reuther, President, United Automobile Workers; Matthew Ahmann, Executive Director, National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice; and Rabbi Joachin Prinz, President, American Jewish Congress.
National Museum of American History, gift of A. Philip Randolph Institute