Many have never heard the names of all the Civil Rights Movement’s heroes. History remembers the “Big Six”—Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, James Farmer, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, and Whitney Young. But behind the scenes is an extensive list of names that often gets overlooked: women.
That’s why the Black Women’s Roundtable, an initiative of The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, led a conference on Thursday to honor the women of the 1963 March on Washington. “We know our brothers did great work 50 years ago,” Melanie Campbell, NCBCP president and conference convener, told some three hundred women gathered at the Capitol Hill Hyatt Regency. “But we know, in Melanie’s opinion, our sisters did even greater work.”
Panelists from a range of women’s organizations shared stories of the African-American women behind many of the movement’s most pivotal moments. Martin Luther King, Jr. and fellow civil rights leader Andrew Young, for example, only met because their wives, Coretta Scott and Jean Childs, knew one another, and that connection eventually inspired their Birmingham Campaign. “Women were the backbone of the civil rights movement during a time when that was more the acceptable role,” says Ingrid Saunders Jones, chair of the National Council of Negro Women and former senior vice president at Coca-Cola Company. “When women convene powerful things happen.”