Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Will the 50th anniversary of March on Washington remember the women?

I keep threatening to put together a public-speaking tour of Washington, DC, where I live--and if I did, this spot would be a highlight of the tour. It is the place where Martin Luther King, Jr. stood to give his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, capping the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, 50 years ago this month.

The commanding view all the way to the Washington Monument never fails to impress visitors, who can imagine the space filled by the estimated 200,000 to 300,000 people who heard the speech that day. Most of us give formal speeches, talks and presentations in conference rooms, hotel ballrooms, auditoriums. There are few speeches for which the location's marked in this way. If you're curious, look on the landing below Lincoln's statue at the Lincoln Memorial; you'll find the marker of the spot where King stood 18 steps down.

For women, the lack of women speakers at this historic event--there was just one, who did not speak at length--reflected the low status of women in the civil rights era. Women of the movement even marched separately from the men as they approached the Lincoln Memorial.  Rosa Parks, arguably the most famous woman in the movement, was merely mentioned in a "tribute to the ladies" speech given by a man, put on the program only after it was noted that no women were speaking. The March on Washington Twitter account has been tweeting historic facts about the march, including the omission of women speakers and some of the discussion about that during the planning of the march.

African-American basketball player Maya Moore says in this appreciation of the speech, "That speech is one that captures humanity, no matter where you're from, no matter what you look like." You can read more about the march right here on the blog:
The King Center and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference are sponsoring a week of commemorative events in Washington next week, culminating in a day-long program at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, the anniversary of the speech. Go here to register and learn more about the schedule. President Obama, who keeps a framed copy of the program from the march and rally in the Oval Office, will speak at the event, along with former presidents Carter and Clinton. I certainly hope there's more participation by and recognition of women this time around. Here's a video of the speech itself:


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1 comment:

Jennifer Collins said...

When in college at The American University, one of my professors was Julian Bond and the class was about the Civil Rights Movement. Unfortunately, the Civil Rights Movement is not taught in "history" books so not only did the class offer an exceptional insider look of the Movement, it also discussed the role of women. What many people may not realize is that women essentially ran that movement behind the scenes from the scheduling, organizing meetings and carpools,coordinating voter registration drives, cooking meals, etc. The men were often the "face" of the movement and subsequent beneficiaries of the work, especially as it gained traction. So thank you for reflecting on a very important part of this story. While women may not have been in it for the publicity, many of the achievements may not have been possible without them.