(The following is a guest post by Kate Stewart, processing archivist in the American Folklife Center, who is principally responsible for organizing and making available collections with Civil Rights content in the division to researchers and the public.)
The planning and execution of the March on Washington in 1963 stands as an extraordinary testament to the vision, political strategy and determination of several organizations and key individuals, chief among them A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, who had conceived of just such an event as far back as the 1940s. By the summer of 1963, the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership, an umbrella group of member organizations including the SCLC, the NAACP, the National Urban League and SNCC, among others, had come together to raise funds to support the day-to-day work of Rustin and his production crew, consisting of dozens of college students.
Typically, it is the voices of leaders of the groups within the council – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young – that figure prominently in many accounts of the march. By contrast, this second post in a series commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington focuses on the experiences of individuals who worked behind the scenes to plan and carry out a feat of logistics, imagination and organization that made the march an indelible memory for both those who participated in it and others who witnessed it on television around the nation and the world. In these two interviews from collections in the American Folklife Center, Rachelle Horowitz and Joyce Ladner describe their work at the march headquarters in Harlem in the summer of 1963. Both remember the long hours and hard work it took to plan the march in the course of eight weeks, and both talk about the mentorship of Bayard Rustin, for whom they worked that summer.
Rustin’s central role in shaping the philosophy of the movement and organizing many of the key direct actions that gave the movement public prominence was indisputable. By the summer of 1963, he had already planned and carried out the Prayer Pilgrimage in 1957 with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), as well as two marches in 1958 and 1959 called the Youth March for Integrated Schools. All three of these events were precursors to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in the summer of 1963.
Rachelle Horowitz was a student at Brooklyn College in the late 1950s when she became involved in the Civil Rights Movement. She started volunteering with a little-known organization called In Friendship in Manhattan with Rustin and Ella Baker, another civil rights icon, and subsequently, at age 22, became the march’s transportation coordinator. In this 2003 interview with Megan Rosenfeld for the Voices of Civil Rights Project Collection, Horowitz discusses how Rustin led the planning of the march in 1963 at the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership, along with A. Philip Randolph. Despite initial opposition from the Kennedy administration and other politicians, Rustin and Randolph convinced them to approve the march. Horowitz then talks about the challenge of chartering buses and planning the logistics of moving thousands of people in and out of the city in August 1963.