Disrupt   |  August 24, 2013

Disseminating women's role in the 1963 March

Karen Finney sat down with Myrlie Evers-Williams and Clayola Brown to talk about women's role in the Civil Rights Movement and the work that remains unfinished, fifty years after the March on Washington.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> 50 years ago, only one woman spoke in the entire main program in the march on washington . it was daisy bates , an activist from arkansas, and she said just 142 words on behalf of a group of female civil rights leaders who were gathered on stage. those leaders weren't -- those female leaders weren't even part of the main march. they led a separate procession on a different street leading up to the lincoln memorial . one of the women leaders who was supposed to be in that group, well, she ended up not being able to make it through the crowd. it was myrlie evers wi, the widow of medgar evers , who was shot outside their home just two months earlier. myrlie evers was supposed to be that one woman who addressed the crowds on the mall. another civil rights leader who did attend the march was clayola brown, as the current president of the a. phillip randolph institute, clayola continues to pushes for workers' rights and economic justice and she is part of the process of ensuring that the power of women civil right activists is recognized. i had the chance to sit down with them to talk about the role of women in the movement, their thoughts from that day, and the work that remains unfinished 50 years after the march.

>> let's start with the fact that i was supposed to be a speaker there. some people say, oh, myrlie, you imagined that. that opportunity, and that's really what it was, came to me shortly after my husband's assassination, which was the 12th of june, of that year. i was in in position at that time, emotionally, to say yes or no. i missed that opportunity. and it was an opportunity, because at that time, very few women were given, and i say that with some animosity, were given an opportunity to participate. so i missed that and dacy bates was the person who spoke. i have felt over the years that it was the biggest mistake that i had ever made, not to push through and not to be there at that very momentous occasion. and i felt that way until january of this year, when president obama asked me to deliver the invocation at his second swearing in.

>> clayola, you want to talk a little bit about 1963 and sort of the role that the founders of the randolph institute played in that?

>> it's really a great feeling to think about the organization that i have the privilege to be president of right now, because both of the leader, asa phillip randolph , who was our president, and bayard rustin , were the architects of that march. bayard rustin was the ones that formulated routes, organized the various organizations to come, as best as we could, because there wasn't twitter and tweeting and e-mails and all of that stuff back then, but an absolute mastermind at pulling people together, of like mind, but different kinds of organizations together. and he was the one that did that. topped with an obstacle of being a member of the lbgt community.

>> right. because i think one of the things about this weekend and this celebration that i think is so notable is the diversity. and the lbgt community, women 's organizations, we're talking about immigration, we're talking about workers' rights, and we've really expanded the conversation in the last 50 years.

>> you would think that 50 years later, we would have addressed a whole theme of the march. jobs, justice, and freedom. we are right back again, jobs, justice, and freedom. and we're back again because we need to be back again. because there's still not a living wage or a sustainable wage. for most americans who are working.

>> you know, myrlie, i would love to hear your thoughts, because, i mean, you, i remember when you spoke once, you became a leader, essentially, at that time. whether you were prepared for it or not, but there were women who were playing big roles in the organization of the march, in the movement, and all of the activities, but we don't talk about them.

>> i think about dorothy hite. who was the woman who brought the men together when they were in total disrepair. dorothy hite and so many others, who were the backbone, as women in certainly the african-american community have been just that. we have a word, mama. it has two definitions. and it raised its ugly head, particularly when corporate america began to open doors to african-americans and there was a competition between the male and the female. mama had two connotations at that time. mama, the nurturing, loving person who took care of the family, who solved all the problems and what not, and the other, if i may say, hey, momma, the hot secretary woman. and where do those two things come together? we became divided over the essence of those two entities. i am concerned today that women are still not in the line of pushing, leadership, we're there, but we're being ignored. and that's why your program and others like yours are so important. z

>> do we not take our place in leadership in the way we need to? is that what was happening in '63? is that what's happening now?

>> we have to learn to stand up for ourselves. history needs to know, point out the roles that women have played in the development of the civil rights movement and other areas, for that matter. with dr. king, you had a coretta scott king .

>> absolutely.

>> who was as wise, as savvy as he was, and he himself said that he would not be playing the role that he played had it not been for coretta, his wife. so, i mean, let's lift ourselves up a little bit with this. this cause is not a cause of one or two issues, one or two types of people. it's about individuals. it's about america. it's about the development of this country. we still, at this time and point, have so much to do in terms of eliminating racism, in terms of the right education, in terms of protecting our children. and we can't help but remember trayvon. miriam wright elman, who is head of the children's defense fund, did a protestive kind of thing, when she had her picture taken with the hoodie. and i felt as though i wanted to go out and get one, not necessarily, but it would have made a difference and said, yes, that child was not mine, but he is mine. and all of the other children and let's forget about who is in charge and try to come together. the issues are still there.

>> absolutely.

>> voting rights are still there. it's a big challenge today. and let's no forget that that was one of the major issues that we were fighting for 50 years ago.

>> my thanks to myrlie evers williams and clayola brown for speaking with me.