Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tell 'em about the dream, Martin.

There are so many events connected to the Civil Rights March on Washington that occurred 45 years ago this day. John Lewis resisting removing references to revolution and Sherman's March in his speech, Malcolm X ridiculing the march as a Kennedy tool, Kennedy staffers camped out by the sound system ready to pull cables if speeches wandered into unapproved territory, a president discouraging Martin King away from economic solutions. All of those events and many more stand out to me. Those and more:
Mounted in the eagle's eye of the Washington Monument, a CBS television camera showed viewers a thick carpet of people on both sides of the half-mile reflecting pool and all around the base of the Lincoln Memorial. At noon, nearly two hours before the rally began, the police estimated the crowd at more than 200,000 .... [T]he numbers reduced observers to monosyllabic joy. Within the movement, the gathering sea of placards and faces produced the most brain-numbing sight since the first ghost fleet of empty buses chugged through Montgomery.

An ancient man reached halfway across the world to fix the historical moment: W.E.B. Du Bois had died in Ghana .... For those who revered Du Bois, news of his death that very morning came as a shockingly appropriate transition. Gone finally was the father of pan-Africanism, the NAACP, and the Negro intelligentsia ....

King faced ... a giant press corps and listeners as diverse as the most ardent supporters of the movement and the stubborn Congress at the other end of the Mall, where by quorum calls sullen legislators "spread upon the Journal" the names of the ninety-two absent members who might have let the march distract them from their regular business. For all these King delivered his address in his clearest diction and stateliest baritone. Ovations interrupted him in the cracks of infrequent oratorical flourish, and in difficult passages small voices cried, "Yes!" and "Right on!" as though grateful and proud to hear such talk. From the front, a woman could be heard to laugh and shout, "Sho 'nuff!" when King told them about the freedom checks that had bounced ....

The crowd responded to the pulsating emotion transmitted from the prophet Amos, and King could not bring himself to deliver the next line of his prepared text, which by contrast opened its lamest and most pretentious section ....

There was no alternative but to preach. Knowing that he had wandered completely off text, some of those behind him on the platform urged him on, and Mahalia Jackson piped up as though in church, "Tell 'em about the dream, Martin." Whether her words reached him is not known. [Source]

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