Rachelle Horowitz: Rustin Civil Rights Activist is Still Going Strong

Netflix’s ‘Rustin’ turns the limelight towards one of the unsung heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. Focusing on Bayard Rustin, the story mainly follows his efforts to organize the 1963 Washington March. Remembered for Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, “I Have A Dream,” and for being the biggest peaceful protest in the history of the country, the March was a culmination of the tireless work by Rustin and the team led by him. Organizing an event of such scale was a humungous task, and it wouldn’t have been possible without every single person who dedicated two months to the cause, no matter how challenging and impossible it might have seemed at the beginning. Rachelle Horowitz was one of them.

Rachelle Horowitz Has Dedicated Her Life to Social Causes

Image Credit: Milwaukee PBS/ Youtube

Played by Lilly Kay in ‘Rustin,’ Rachelle Horowitz was an activist who became a member of the socialist party in the 1950s, which is where she was put in touch with Rustin, with whom she worked for many years. Calling herself “a young radical who wanted to change the world,” she was only 24 years old when she became a part of the team whose goal was to organize the largest peaceful protest in the country.

She was appointed as the transportation coordinator, which she felt was a little weird because she couldn’t drive! “I was totally horrified and frightened about this notion,” she said. “And I said something that also, in retrospect, seems fairly silly. ‘How can I be the transportation director? I can’t drive,’ which I couldn’t. I was a New Yorker. And also, I had lost my bus on every previous march,” she said.

Her job required her to secure transportation for everyone in the march— be it the leaders or the participants— to and from DC. It was a humungous task in itself because they’d started planning with 100,000 people in mind, but at the end of the day, the total count was estimated to be somewhere near 250,000. Additionally, she also helped Rustin in running the HQ in New York, from where they planned the whole thing.

Where is Rachelle Horowitz Today?

Image Credit: Milwaukee PBS/ Youtube

Now in her 80s, Rachelle Horowitz lives in Washington, DC. She was married to Thomas R. Donahue, who went on to serve as the Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. He passed away in February 2023.

While ‘Rustin’ shows Rachelle’s contribution to the March, her life work spanned more than just the Civil Rights Movement. Following the March, she moved to Missipppi for a few months and was involved in the formation of the Freedom Democrats. She remained an important member of the Democratic Socialist Party and continued her collaboration with Rustin, for whom she worked as an assistant from 1964 to 1973. From 1974 to 1995, she served as the political director of the American Federation of Teachers. She has also been on the board of directors of the National Democratic Institute.

Looking back at her time organizing the March with Rustin and the rest of the team, she said it felt good to be included. The lack of women speakers is one of the criticisms that the March has received, but according to Horowitz, she and other women working on the March “didn’t feel put down, so to speak, or under-appreciated as women.”

Considering the politically charged climate that we live in, Horowitz encourages people to stand up for their cause, but she also advises to put more thought into things before committing to them. She said: “I would say to people today to establish for yourself a set of principles and live by those principles, and not get pulled into a demonstration for demonstration’s sake.”

Read More: Rustin: Is Tom Based on a Real Person?