Monday, January 15, 2007
The Video Vault #2
I have another post coming later today - but since it is Monday, it's time for my new weekly feature here at RRL, The Video Vault. (see the post below for the backstory).
Today is a national holiday dedicated to the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The fact is we all know something about Dr. King ... we all can toss a quote or two about this man. But recently I stumbled upon the raw footage of his famous speech, delivered on that hot summer day in Washington D.C. back in 1963 ... I was just two months old when this historic event happened.
As far as black Americans were concerned, the nation's response to Brown v. Board of Education was agonizingly slow, and neither state legislatures nor the Congress seemed willing to help their cause along. Finally, President Kennedy recognized that only a strong civil rights bill would put teeth into the drive to secure equal protection of the laws for African Americans. On June 11, 1963, he proposed such a bill to Congress, asking for legislation that would provide "the kind of equality of treatment which we would want for ourselves." Southern representatives in Congress managed to block the bill in committee, and civil rights leaders sought some way to build political momentum behind the measure.
A. Philip Randolph, a labor leader and longtime civil rights activist, called for a massive march on Washington to dramatize the issue. He welcomed the participation of white groups as well as black in order to demonstrate the multiracial backing for civil rights. The various elements of the civil rights movement, many of which had been wary of one another, agreed to participate. The leaders even agreed to tone down the rhetoric of some of the more militant activists for the sake of unity, and they worked closely with the Kennedy administration, which hoped the march would, in fact, lead to passage of the civil rights bill.
On August 28, 1963, under a nearly cloudless sky, more than 250,000 people, a fifth of them white, gathered near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington to rally for "jobs and freedom." The roster of speakers included speakers from nearly every segment of society -- labor leaders like Walter Reuther, clergy, film stars such as Sidney Poitier and Marlon Brando and folksingers such as Joan Baez. Each of the speakers was allotted fifteen minutes, but the day belonged to the young and charismatic leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had originally prepared a short and somewhat formal recitation of the sufferings of African Americans attempting to realize their freedom in a society chained by discrimination. He was about to sit down when gospel singer Mahalia Jackson called out, "Tell them about your dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!" Encouraged by shouts from the audience, King drew upon some of his past talks, and the result became the landmark statement of civil rights in America -- a dream of all people, of all races and colors and backgrounds, sharing in an America marked by freedom and democracy.
Take the time and watch this speech in its entirety - it's quite moving and oh so important ... especially today, as the nation recognizes Dr. King's legacy.