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Women — nearly left off March on Washington Program — speaking up now

The sisters were almost forgotten.

Women were ubiquitous in the trenches of the civil rights movement, but were nearly left off the official program of the historic 1963 March on Washington.

It was not surprising at the time.

The list of female pioneers in the movement was long, but men ran the show. Scratch that: Women ran the show, too, but mostly out of public view. Few women were in pulpits, although church ladies kept the houses of worship in order. Next to no women were leading labor unions, even as increasing numbers of them joined the workforce. And the largest civil rights groups were run by men, although plenty of the organizers, thinkers and volunteers were women.

After some of the women who had the ear of march organizers protested the slight, a “Tribute to Negro Women Fighters for Freedom” was added to the program. It had the makings of a Sunday morning women’s day program: flowery words and little substance.

That wasn’t the only snub. The female activists, many of whom had risked their lives alongside men, were assigned to walk with the wives of civil rights leaders on that day.

That included Dorothy Height, who was president of the National Council of Negro Women, and Rosa Parks, the seamstress who began the bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955. Parks was an NAACP activist who had been involved in the fight against Jim Crow for longer than many of the men given speaking roles.

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