Commentary: History Must Correct The Record About “The Big 6” Who Planned ‘63 March On Washington

by Rev. Dr. JoAnn Watson

Dr. Dorothy Irene Height, like Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Dorrie and Joyce Ladner, Gloria Hayes Richardson, Claudia House Morcom, Anna Diggs Taylor, and countless other women, played important roles during the 60’s Civil Rights Movement; but their names and their sacrifices are consistently, persistently, and unapologetically excluded from

historical accounts that have been recorded in academic journals, social justice compendiums and related documents archived by researchers, educators, and socio-political journals.

With this writing, please note that this author urges that one such glaring omission be remediated and corrected in all published work relative to the 1963 March on Washington.

Specifically, the oft-used phrase of “The Big Six” referring to the planners of The 1963 March on Washington typically cites the “Big Six” as:

  • Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • James Farmer
  • A. Phillip Randolph
  • Roy Wilkins
  • Whitney Young
  • John Lewis

Notwithstanding, this list of “Big Six” Black men which has been routinely chronicled by many, the real-time “Big Six” participants actually included one woman: the legendary Dr. Dorothy I. Height, President of The National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), highest-ranking Black Executive of The YWCA of the USA, and President Emerita of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. As the hand-selected successor to the phenomenal Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, (who founded the NCNW and Bethune-Cookman College), Dr. Height was arguably the most respected and recognized Black woman in the Civil Rights Movement in 1963. As documented in Dr. Height’s autobiographical Memoir, “Open Wide The Freedom Gates” (page 138-147), she was invited to the 1963 March on Washington planning team by A. Philip Randolph, leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Vice President of the AFL-CIO. Prior to the 1963 March, many Civil Rights leaders who were subsequently named as part of the “Big Six” had been meeting monthly with Stephen Currier, President of the philanthropic Taconic Foundation

to forge partnerships between philanthropic officials and Civil Rights Leaders. Dr. Height notes that no surrogates were allowed at these sessions-only Principals. That group included Whitney Young, National Urban League; A. Philip Randolph, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and AFL-CIO; Roy Wilkins, NAACP; Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Southern Christian Leadership Conference,

James Farmer, Congress of Racial Equality; and Dr. Dorothy I. Height, National Council of Negro Women.

On June 12, 1963, NAACP Mississippi Field Secretary, Medgar Evers, was tragically murdered in his own driveway; prompting Stephen Currier to

convene a special meeting of this group as he solicited major donations from the philanthropic community. The day that the NAACP Martyr, Medgar Evers, was buried at the Arlington Cemetery, a Civil Rights leadership breakfast was held at the Carlyle Hotel in New York, and within one hour nearly $1 million had been raised to advance the cause of Civil Rights. Among those who addressed this meeting were Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young and Dr. Dorothy I. Height.

With the newly garnered philanthropic funds, five of the participating organizations who anchored the Carlyle Hotel meeting established the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership (CUCRL)as a tax exempt organization (NAACP, Urban League, CORE, SCLC, and NCNW).

In her memoir, Dr. Height recounts “Though I was the only woman in the leadership group, I was treated as a peer”…”I smile when I recall the meeting at which I suggested including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating

Committee (SNCC) in the Civil Rights leadership…I was very pleased when my colleagues agreed to admit SNCC to the Council for United Civil Rights leadership. Within SNCC, the national chairman and executive director shared power, so either chair James Forman or executive John Lewis-but not both-could attend any Council for United Civil Rights Leadership.”

“The idea for harnessing the growing national indignation in a March on Washington originated with A. Philip Randolph…he felt strongly that it was time to rally for jobs and freedom.” “To plan the March, Mr. Randolph invited cooperating partners to join the Black leadership…(and) …his assistant Bayard Rustin served as coordinator.”

“In the end, a quarter of a million people answered the call. They came to Washington from all walks of life, all income levels, all creeds. Bus loads by the hundreds, carried Blacks, Browns, whites, liberals, laborers, rich and poor, Christians, Muslims, Jews, men, women, and children all converged on the nation’s Capitol.” ”August 28,1963, was a glorious day-clear and bright.”

As is aptly illustrated by Dr. Height’s first-person account of the details surrounding the 1963 March on Washington, what has been routinely characterized as the “Big Six” should be revised to the “Big Seven.” Since all “Big Six” incarnations up to now have included the Civil Rights Hero, John Lewis; while failing to acknowledge that a founding committee member, Dr. Dorothy I. Height, had advocated for John Lewis to join the committee and to be added to the list of Speakers;

the time has come to correct the record.

While sadly, no women were among the Speakers during the

historic, transformative 1963

March on Washington; it would be neither accurate, nor respectful to continue the omission of the iconic, irreplaceable imprint of Dr. Dorothy Irene Height as an original member of the planning leadership team.

The “Big Six” should forevermore become the “Big Seven.”

About Post Author

Staff Writer


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: