August 28th marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, inarguably one of the greatest occasions in human and civil rights history. It was during this monumental political rally in 1963 that upwards of 300,000 people took to Washington, D.C. to march for the rights of the United States' non-white citizens and it was here that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech. While the anniversary certainly merits massive celebration and commemoration, it's also important to recognize the way the historic rally ignored and, in some cases, blatantly disrespected the contributions of women to the Civil Rights Movement. Yes, the March on Washington had major issues with sexism.
To discuss the event's "rampant sexism," writer and political analyst Keli Goff — on behalf of The Root — recently spoke with civil rights leader Gloria Richardson. Richardson — who lead the arduous struggle for civil rights in Cambridge, Maryland (otherwise known as the Cambridge Movement) in the early 60s — was one of a small handful of women scheduled to speak at the March on Washington, however upon her arrival, she found that she and her fellow female speakers were not treated by organizers with the respect they deserved.
When asked about her most profound memories from the march, Richardson — now 91 —reflected:
"The thousands of people that came and the buses! And then the whole energy from those people there, but then I had a bad experience," she explained. "Because when I got to the platform they took my chair away."
Richardson had arrived late to the stage, she explains, because of a confusion stemming from the fact that female speakers were given a seperate tent from the male speakers. Once she finally arrived — still in time to give her remarks — her chair was no longer there. (Fellow speakers Lena Horne and Josephine Baker reportedly told her, 'They took your chair away. You need to raise hell.") Richardson attempted to carry on, but once she approached the microphone to give her two minute speech, she only managed to say "hello" before "the marshal took the mic away."
It gets worse:
"Before it ended, two marshals came to Lena Horne and me — she had been taking Rosa around to take her around to European satellite stations and saying, 'This is the woman who started the Montgomery Bus Boycott.' So before it was over, these marshals came over, saying they thought we'd be overwhelmed [by fans] and escorted us out, so when Martin [Luther King, Jr.] spoke, we were in a cab on the way back to the hotel. I think they were annoyed with Lena taking Rosa around. So that part of the march was not a good experience for me."
When explicitly asked by Goff whether or not "female civil rights activists were treated as second-class citizens," Richardson responded, "Oh, yes! Oh, yes! In terms of the march, yes."
(I highly recommend you read the rest of Goff's piece at The Root. Gloria Richardson offers some important — albeit terribly depressing — insights on the current state of civil rights that are not worth missing.)
Image via Getty.