Women and the March on Washington

Fifty years ago today hundreds of thousands marched on Washington for civil rights burning the issue into the nation’s conscious. It was the day that Martin Luther King Jr. told us he had a dream that “all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Yet, no woman spoke that day for any length. And that famous phrase from one of the best speeches of the 20th Century? Notice he said, “black men and white men.”

Other than a brief tribute to black women, the only female voices heard from the stage were those singing.  As the only woman on the March’s planning committee, Anna Arnold Hegdemen protested the exclusion of female freedom fighters. Josephine Baker addressed the main crowd before the official program began. Daisy Bates was the only woman to address the crowd during the official program and spoke 142 words during the tribute to women.

Although women were leaders of the civil rights movement, they were relegated to secondary status the day of the March. There were even separate parades held for male civil rights leaders, who marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, and female civil rights leaders, who marched down Independence Avenue.

There’s no denying the day was incredible for the impact it made on the country. Fifty years later, an African American president spoke on the spot where Martin Luther King spoke.  Yet, still we have not elected a woman president. Less than a quarter of the Kansas legislature is women. So let’s take this day to remember the incredible event that occurred while being inspired to charge ahead on the march for women’s rights.

The best way to advance women’s rights is to elect more women. KAW is working to do that. Do you want to get involved with us? We’re forming committees – marketing, fundraising, grass roots organizing, candidate recruitment and advisory board. Interested in joining one or know somebody who would be interested? Email us at kansansadvancingwomen@gmail.com.

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