The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was a pivotal moment in American history. Over 250,000 people were united in Washington, D.C. by a dream for equality and justice for all. While Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech rightfully holds a central place in the narrative of that day, the voices of two remarkable women, Josephine Baker and Daisy Bates, should be remembered and celebrated, as well.
Baker and Bates were the only women that delivered speeches this day. The words they shared with the crowd embodied the strength, resilience, and the tenacity of women that were fighting for equality in their communities.
Daisy Bates: A Beacon of Courage in the Face of Segregation
Daisy Bates stood as a pillar of strength in the heart of America’s South. Daisy Bates was a co-founder and publisher of the Arkansas State Press, a newspaper that exposed racial injustice in Arkansas. She also served as the President of the Arkansas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case (347 U.S. 483), the United States Supreme Court ruled that school segregation was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruling did not change the state of the education system in Arkansas, so Bates did. In 1957, she successfully advised, mentored, and organized the integration of nine Black students into Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. These nine Black students and their experiences would go on to be nationally known as the Little Rock Nine.
At the March on Washington, Bates was able to speak for Black women who fought for justice in their communities. Originally Myrlie Evans, wife of then late civil rights activist Medgar Evans, was the only woman scheduled to speak for the day, however she experienced traffic traveling to the march that prevented her from speaking. In Evans’ place, Bates delivered a speech that highlighted the crucial role of women in the struggle for equality. In her address, she declared,
“…we will join hands with you as women of this country… We will walk until we are free, until we can walk to any school and take our children to any school in the United States” .(Iowa State University – Archives of Women’s Political Communication, “Speech at the March on Washington – Aug. 28, 1963”)
Bates’s words were a reminder that the fight for freedom belonged to women as much as it did to men. Her voice represented the countless mothers, wives, daughters, and Black women who stood behind the movement amplifying the demands for equality and justice.
Josephine Baker: A Global Icon for Equality
Josephine Baker defied racial and gender barriers when she became a global superstar. Josephine Baker was an American born world renowned performer. She was most known for her performance of the “Danse Sauvage ” number where she danced in a banana skirt. She used her platform to denounce racism and colonialism. During World War II, she became an agent for the French Resistance. She helped the French military by sharing German secrets she overheard while performing. Upon her return to the United States, she became a civil rights activist.
At the March on Washington, Baker delivered a heartfelt plea for unity and equality. Baker was able to speak during the march because the program experienced a delay. Taking full advantage of this opportunity, she addressed the crowd by declaring,
“You’re together as salt and pepper just as you should be. Just as I’ve always wanted you to be and peoples of the world have always wanted you to be. You are a united people at last because without unity there cannot be any victory. You see, I’m glad”.(BlackPast, (1963) Josephine Baker, “Speech at the March on Washington”)
Baker’s words, infused with pain and hope, resonated with African Americans who had long endured the injustices of segregation. Her words were a reminder that equality and unity is a tangible reality for Americans, and she was able to experience that reality in that moment.
Unsung Heroes of History
The presence of Baker and Bates at the March on Washington have often been overlooked. But their presence on that historic day was anything but marginal. They were living pillars of strength and resilience.
Beyond the March: A Legacy of Empowerment
The legacies of Josephine Baker and Daisy Bates extend far beyond their speeches on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Baker’s unwavering advocacy for human rights and racial equality continues to inspire generations of artists and activists. Bates’s dedication to education and empowerment is still a beacon for communities fighting for social justice today.
Remember their names. Remember their stories. Remember their voice. Remember their power.
Written with lots of care,
Your Internet BFF
P.S. Share your favorite quotes from MLK’s “I Have A Dream Speech” in the comments.
Additional Sources Used To Write This Post:
- National Women’s History Museum
- Stanford University – The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute