March on Washington’s Unsung Heroes

We hear plenty about the event's "Big Six," but here are some forgotten players who deserve some glory.

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    Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons/Wikimedia Commons

    The March on Washington's Unsung Heroes

    A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders worked together to make the March on Washington a success 50 years ago. However, there were a number of people who worked behind the scenes to put together the event. This slideshow honors nine of those unsung heroes who contributed to the historic March on Washington.

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    Screenshot from Smithsonian Magazine, 2013

    Courtland Cox

    Cox was a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee representative who was on the march’s planning committee. His unknown contribution? He edited fellow SNCC member John Lewis’ original March on Washington speech, which heavily criticized the Kennedy administration and called for a forceful but nonviolent march through the South. Several march organizers — including Bayard Rustin — deemed some passages in the text offensive, so Cox helped tone it down at the behest of march leaders.

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    Tom Kahn giving a speech at a League for Industrial Democracy event (Wikimedia Commons)

    Tom Kahn

    Kahn, who was Bayard Rustin’s chief assistant, created the concept for the march. He worked tirelessly for labor rights and became director of the AFL-CIO international-affairs department in the 1980s.


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    Norman Hill giving a speech at a tribute for Fred Shuttlesworth (screenshot from YouTube)

    Norman Hill

    The Congress of Racial Equality national program director served as the staff coordinator for the event, managing a large number of volunteers, interns and organizers. He went on to have an extensive career in civil rights.

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    Robinson, right, chatting with Bayard Rustin outside the march office in New York City

    Cleveland Robinson

    Workers’ rights were central to the march’s mission. Robinson was the leader of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Stores Union’s District 65 in New York City. His union alone provided three trains and 18 buses to transport attendees.

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    Anna Arnold Hedgeman, right, planning the march route with A. Philip Randolph, left, and Roy Wilkins (Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress)

    Anna Arnold Hedgeman

    Hedgeman was the only woman on the march’s administrative central committee. In fact, the ceremony’s Tribute to Negro Women Fighters for Freedom grew out of Hedgeman’s frustration with the lack of women on the program. She’s credited with recruiting more than 40,000 marchers.

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    Joyce Ladner, right, with her sister, Dorie, at the March on Washington (the Ladner Report)

    Joyce Ladner

    Young people played chief roles in organizing the march, and Ladner was one of them. She was a field secretary for the SNCC, and after the murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers, Ladner moved to New York to help recruit march attendees. She and her sister, Dorie Ladner, pounded the pavement to raise money to get people to the nation’s capital.

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    Rachelle Horowitz, left, receiving the St. Joseph's Day Award in Washington, D.C., for her civil rights activism (the Faith and Politics Institute) 

    Rachelle Horowitz

    Horowitz was also Bayard Rustin’s assistant. She coordinated transportation for more than 100,000 marchers nationwide and advocated for local coordinators who were having trouble getting unsupportive bus companies to drive to Washington. Thanks to Horowitz, New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority ran a rush-hour schedule the night before the march.

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    Eleanor Holmes Norton (U.S. House of Representatives)

    Eleanor Holmes Norton

    We know her now as D.C.’s nonvoting delegate to Congress, but in 1963, Norton was a march volunteer in Harlem. She corralled support in the Big Apple, recruited marchers and helped Rachelle Horowitz coordinate buses to transport thousands to the nation’s capital.

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    Josephine Baker walking to the podium to give her speech at the Lincoln Memorial ( Domain)

    Josephine Baker

    The entertainer gave a moving speech at the march and was the only woman to officially address the audience as part of the march agenda.

    Know of other forgotten heroes from this historic event? Tell us about them in the comments below or tweet us @TheRoot247 using the hashtag #MarchOn.

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