Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Social Consciousness: Gender

BOND: Dr. Height, let me take you to the 1963 March on Washington. You helped convince the others to let Martin Luther King speak last, but you weren't able to convince them to have a woman speaker.

HEIGHT: No, no.

BOND: What was the tone of that?

HEIGHT: Well, you know, it was very interesting. Bayard Rustin, of course, was the director for the whole thing. I went myself, I took a group of women. We had several meetings. But the explanation always was, "Well, the NAACP, the Urban League, the churches, the labor unions, all of them have women members." And we said, "Yes. And we don't want a woman to speak for those organizations. We want a woman to speak for women." And they said, "Well, the women are represented."

We weren't able to break through that. There was some reluctance from the Student Nonviolent [Coordinating] Committee. But, you know, John Lewis was young, and they stood up and they spoke. But in the end, we just said, "Well, the purpose of this is too great. We don't want to do anything that would cloud that." And we stood back. So the next day after the meeting, we held a meeting called "After the March, What?" And Pauli Murray and several people wrote a tremendous document on women in the quest for equality. And I think that to think that the only female voice heard that day was that of Mahalia Jackson, who sang the national anthem. And we said, "Well, we're the same people who said that in the broad white community they'll often let us sing, but they won't let us speak. You're doing the same thing." But I think we felt in the end that we did the right thing. But I will tell you, I don't think it would ever happen again.