On Thursday, August 22 the Black Women’s Roundtable (BWR), an initiative of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP), held a special women’s leader event focusing on the contributions females gave in the 1963 March on Washington. The affair was a series of happenings that were held last week and continuing in Washington, D.C.
The event, called “Women Leaders of the Movement: Past, Present and Future, Intergenerational Discussion and Luncheon,” was held at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill between 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Diverse groups of women who represented organizations included the National Association for the Advancement for Colored People (NAACP), League of Women Voters, Emerald Cities, National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), YWCA USA, and the National Organization of Women (NOW). Over 100 women attended.
The discussion on BWR’s agenda was divided into three segments: (1) The Past: Tribute to Women Leaders, Organizers and Attendees of the 1963 March on Washington; (2) The Present: A Conversation with Present Women Leaders of the Movement; and (3) The Future: Taking Control of Our Present – Developing Our Policy Demands.
Moderators were Melanie L. Campbell, President and CEO of NCBCP and BWR (Segment 1); Karen Finney, Host, Disrupt, on MSNBC (Segment 2); and Lead Facilitator Makani Themba, Executive Director, The Praxis Project (Segment 3).
Panelists of the discussion included Beverly Alston, Northeast Regional Chair, National Action Network (NAN) and Dr. Thelma Daley, Chair, Women of the NAACP (Segment 1); Terry O’ Neill, President, NOW and Denise Fairchild, President, Emerald Cities (Segment 2).
Each side of the room where the event took place were two video screens showing pictures of women leaders and trendsetters that ran throughout the discussion. Two huge easels were also set up on each side displaying a picture of Dr. Dorothy I. Height (March 24, 1912 – April 20, 2010). Accolades were given to Ms. Height throughout the program. Ms. Height was a renowned civil rights and women’s rights activist, was President of the National Council for Negro Women for four decades, and National President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority (1947 – 1956). The sorority celebrated its 100-year anniversary in Washington, D.C. last month. Height was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.
The three and a half-hour session covered many topics; with comments and questions from panelists and respondents. Stories were told of how women at their young age caught the Greyhound bus to attend the 1963 March, protocol behavior given from Dorothy Height, unsung heroes responsible for achieving rights for African Americans (i.e. Fannie Lou Hamer, A. Philip Randolph, Ella Baker), and how a march was originally started in Detroit, MI. instead of Washington, D.C. Two examples of questions asked (among others) were (1) since (many)issues for women have not been resolved, what suggestions do you have for women to get the power they deserve and (2) how can women participate more in environmental issues.
Recommendations in keeping a sisterhood philosophy were pulling other sisters forward, bringing young people into the mix, to stay grounded, to do more referendums, to achieve immigration reform, to have integrity and to have a great deal of humility. Longevity was also mentioned as an asset and to be aware that you could be your own worst enemy.
Segment 3 entailed small group discussions at each table where organizations sat. The women pondered over priorities and made suggestions on plans for action that would affect all women and communities alike. Categories consisted of freedom, jobs, peace and social justice. Elements that were pertinent in those categories were equal pay, reproductive rights, education, voting rights, economic power, violence and health care. The press release given on the event declared that “the outcome of these discussions will be captured in a brief document with recommended public policy solutions and approaches.”
Highlights of the event were a “Tribute to Women Leaders of the Movement” and vernacular from Bernice King. The tribute song “I Gave My All” was performed by Joe Coleman, formerly of the R&B group The Platters.
Elder Bernice King, one of the daughters of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and CEO of The King Center, reflected on her father’s massive contribution to civil rights and the 1963 March. She also gave praise to her mother, Coretta Scott King, addressing the slogan she said that “the struggle continues.” Ms. King continued her talk by stating that the 50th anniversary is “Not an accident, this is divine order. Many have fallen into a deep sleep.”
King concluded on the premise that “perhaps this is not a set-back, but a set-up” and that “people are looking at us” in prayerful form. Both Coleman and King received standing ovations after their appearance.
Jamida Orange, daughter of Reverend James Orange (October 29, 1942 – February 16, 2008), who was a colleague of Dr. King, was present at the event. Ms. Orange’s father was also a prominent civil right activist and deeply committed to the principles of non-violence.
“I know the principles of non-violence, I lived it,”, Orange stated. Orange believes as a woman, she “shouldn’t have to choose,” in reference to race or gender; adding it was unfortunate that (black) women have to choose one over the other. She pointed out that "a call to action is needed – for jobs, better pay, and eliminating attacks against women."
The event began and ended in prayer. Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Co-Chair, African American Clergy Network, opened first while Barbara Perkins, Founding President, International Black Women’s Public Policy Institute concluded; as a circle of sisterhood bowed their heads in unison, giving thanks for a job well done.