The Rampant Sexism at March on Washington

Gloria Richardson, one of the few women listed on the program, shares her memories with The Root.

Gloria Richardson, center, leads a 1964 civil rights demonstration in Maryland. (Francis Miller/Getty Images)

“I think they were annoyed with Lena taking Rosa around. So that part of the march was not a good experience for me.”

Asked if she believes female civil rights activists were treated as second-class citizens, she said, “Oh, yes! Oh, yes! In terms of the march, yes.”

Richardson lamented that she fears that much of the work she and others fought for has been undone in recent years and that too many younger people of color don’t seem to know or care. “Most of the schools across the country are resegregating. Health care for black folks, whatever their coverage, is second rate. What from the Civil Rights Bill and voting rights are left?”

She was particularly disappointed in what she considers the lack of mobilization at the grassroots and legislative levels against disenfranchising voting-rights laws.

“Maybe it’s because they were too busy trying to protect Obama,” she said. Richardson believes the first black president’s election has not had a positive impact on civil rights. “It was amazing to me that everyone sat down and shut up and didn’t challenge him on anything.”

Asked to give him a grade on civil rights efforts, she replied, “An F. I don’t think he’s a fighter.” While she doesn’t think the president lacks good intentions, she said, “It’s like a professor or preacher getting up with beautiful words … I guess he’s laid back.”

But she stressed that “Stand your ground” and stop-and-frisk laws prove that the country still has some serious civil rights battles, and most leaders today don’t seem up for the fight. “Maybe because the leadership now is of another generation and doesn’t understand you really have to fight like hell and you can’t be gentlemanly or ladylike in that fight.” Though she said that many younger people of color seem to take her work and that of other civil rights activists for granted, she praised Jumaane Williams, a member of the New York City Council who has been a vocal opponent of stop and frisk.

But she is disappointed in the hip-hop community and was particularly critical of the controversial “Harriet Tubman Sex Tape” video that appeared on an online channel supported by Russell Simmons, as well as lyrics by the rapper Lil Wayne denigrating the memory of Emmett Till.

She blamed the corporatization of media for encouraging such behavior. “Something is going on to obliterate the actual history and move towards this postracial thing.”

Before her interview with The Root concluded, she recalled that when she was first contacted about participating in the Tribute to Negro Women Fighters for Freedom, she was told she couldn’t wear her traditional protest uniform. “They call them jeans today, but then they called them dungarees and said you can’t wear that; you have to dress up. I wouldn’t have worn dungarees anyway, but I found a jean skirt and a blouse, and I wore that.” She let out a laugh, before adding, “The traditional leaders didn’t like me. The White House kept trying to find someone to rein people like me in.”

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.