It’s hard to believe that the historic 1963 March on Washington happened just 50 years ago. Racism, of course, was the main issue at the march, but gender inequality was also rampant in the ‘60s. In acknowledging the accomplishments of those early leaders of the Civil Rights movement, let’s not forget about the women of color who faced multiple challenges, yet rose to the occasion.
When we consider the Civil Rights movement, Rosa Parks is undoubtedly one of the first people who comes to mind. Parks, aside, it's incredible how few African American leaders of the movement are included in American history books.
Part of the problem was that women weren’t allowed to take visible leadership roles. Women made up many of the organizers and planners of the movement, but most of the major groups were fronted by men.
Women were barely included on the official program for the March on Washington, and they were almost left out entirely.
Rosa Parks, Dorothy Height — president of the National Council of Negro Women — and other female activists were asked to walk with the wives of Civil Rights leaders on the day of the march despite their own hard work.
Height also was denied official leadership in the march by A. Philip Randolph, a black labor leader who first called for a march in 1941, and other male leaders.
Thankfully, there were female speakers that day. Daisy Bates, who played a critical role in integrating schools in Little Rock, Ark., and Josephine Baker — a dancer, singer and actress — both addressed the crowd.
"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," Bates said. "And we will sit-on and we will kneel-in and we will lie-in if necessary until every negro in America can vote. This we pledge to the women of America."
The highly reported presence of Oprah Winfrey, King's daughter Rev. Bernice King, and first lady Michelle Obama at today's celebration indicates that this particular tide has turned, though we all know visibility is only the first step to real equality. Women of color still face disproportionate challenges in this country. Let's hope the next step is actual change.