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'The Big Six': Major Players in the 1963 March on Washington

8/20/2013, 12:29 p.m.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“The Big Six” refers to a group of prominent African-American leaders who at the height of the Civil Rights Movement were members of several organizations that fought for equality for Black people.

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King (1929-68), Founder/President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference):

One hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, an estimated 250,000 people gathered on the National Mall in the nation’s capital for a peaceful demonstration to promote civil rights and economic equality for African Americans. During the historic event, King delivered his electrifying “I Have a Dream” speech which was also televised to a live audience of millions across the country.

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A. Phillip Randolph

A. Phillip Randolph (1889-1979), Labor Leader:

The March on Washington was initiated by Randolph, who had been international president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, as well as president of the Negro American Labor Council. He stepped into the limelight in the 1950s, going on to become a visible national spokesperson for civil rights across America. Randolph graduated from Cookman Institute in Jacksonville, Fla., and after moving to New York, he ran unsuccessfully for offices in the state on the Socialist Party ticket.

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James Farmer

James Farmer (1920-99), President of the Congress of Racial Equality:

Farmer, a civil rights giant in the 1950s and ‘60s, once played dead in the back of a hearse that carried him along back roads in his native Virginia. "I was meant to die that night," ... "They were kicking open doors, beating up blacks in the streets, interrogating them with electric cattle prods," he later said. Known as one of the founding fathers of the new South, Farmer was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998 by Bill Clinton.

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Whitney M. Young

Whitney Young (1921-71), President of the National Urban League:

Young, one of Congressman John Lewis’s role models, spent much of his adult life tearing down racial and social barriers to advance the welfare of African Americans. He used reason, persuasion and negotiation so that black citizens could have good jobs, education, housing, health care and social services.

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John Lewis

John Lewis (1940 - ), President of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee:

Lewis, who is currently a Georgia congressman, was still in his early 20s when he became known as one of “The Big Six.” At age 23, he was also a keynote speaker at the momentous March on Washington. It was while attending the American Baptist Theological Seminary that Lewis joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, later becoming its president. The democratic congressman ,who was also a member of the city council in Atlanta, was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1986.

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Roy Wilkins

Roy Wilkins (1901-81), Civil Rights Activist, NAACP President:

Always soft-spoken, Wilkins was noted for carrying a big stick leading the thousands of people he organized as volunteers of the NAACP, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. The St. Louis, MO, native attended Minnesota University in 1923, before joining the staff of the NAACP’s “The Crisis” magazine. While at the helm of the NAACP, Wilkins testified before several congressional hearings and contributed legally and financially to help disadvantaged people.

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Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin (1912-87), Leader of Social Movements, Gay Rights:

Rustin, who moved to New York in the 1930s, was involved in early civil rights protests and was a key adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. Arrested several times for being openly gay, he orchestrated and administered details of the March on Washington. During World War II Rustin fought against racial discrimination in war-related hiring. He was also jailed for two years during the war for refusing to register for the draft.

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