As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, a little-known fact about the march gives a very different perspective. While it is considered one of the greatest events for equal rights in human history, women in the march as well as in the civil rights movement as a whole struggled for equal treatment.
Initially, the program featured no female speakers. After facing intense criticism, a tribute to “Negro Women Fighters for Freedom” was put together at the last minute. Gloria Richardson co-founder of Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee and one of the few women listed on the program, shared her memories of the march in a candid interview with The Root. According to Richardson, women were relegated to a separate tent and they weren’t allowed to march down Pennsylvania Avenue with the male civil rights leaders and the press. Instead, they had to walk separately down Independence Avenue. When the few women who were asked to speak were called to the podium, their microphones were taken away before they could even begin. When Richardson was 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.”
Ironically, in the midst of a movement brought about to ensure equality, women were somehow left off the agenda. The treatment of women during the march was reminiscent of the way blacks had been treated for decades. Clearly, during this time in history, equality for all didn’t mean equality for black women. There time would come later.