The March on Washington made history 60 years ago today
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom or "The Great March on Washington," as styled in a sound recording released after the event, was one of the largest political rallies for human rights in United States history and called for civil and economic rights for African Americans.
It took place in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, August 28, 1963 — 60 years ago today.
Martin Luther King, Jr., standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech advocating racial harmony during the march.
The march was organized by a group of civil rights, labor, and religious organizations, under the theme "jobs, and freedom." Estimates of the number of participants varied from 200,000 to 300,000. Observers estimated that 75–80 percent of the marchers were black.
The march is widely credited with helping to pass the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965).
Gospel legend Mahalia Jackson sang "How I Got Over," and Marian Anderson sang "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." This was not Marian Anderson's first appearance at the Lincoln Memorial. In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution refused permission for Anderson to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall.
With the aid of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Anderson performed a critically acclaimed open-air concert on Easter Sunday, 1939, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Joan Baez led the crowds in several verses of "We Shall Overcome" and "Oh Freedom." Bob Dylan performed, "When the Ship Comes In," for which he was joined by Baez. Dylan also performed "Only a Pawn in Their Game," a provocative and not completely popular choice because it asserted that Byron de la Beckwith, as a poor white man, was not personally or primarily to blame for the murder of Medgar Evers.
Peter, Paul and Mary sang "If I Had a Hammer" and Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind." Odetta sang "I'm On My Way." Some participants, including Dick Gregory criticized the choice of mostly white performers and the lack of group participation in the singing.
Dylan himself said he felt uncomfortable as a white man serving as a public image for the civil rights movement. After the March on Washington, he performed at few other immediately politicized events.
The symbolism of the March was contested before it even took place. In the years following the March, movement radicals increasingly subscribed to Malcolm X's narrative of the March as a co-optation by the white establishment. Liberals and conservatives tended to embrace the March, but focused mostly on King's "I Have a Dream" speech and the legislative successes of 1964 and 1965.
The mass media identified King's speech as a highlight of the event and focused on this oration to the exclusion of other aspects. For several decades, King took center stage in narratives about the March. More recently, historians and commentators have acknowledged the role played by Bayard Rustin in organizing the event.
If the legendary gospel vocalist Mahalia Jackson had been somewhere other than the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on this day in 1963, her place in history would still have been assured purely on the basis of her musical legacy.
But it is almost impossible to imagine Mahalia Jackson having been anywhere other than center stage at the historic rally, where she not only performed as the lead-in to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his "I Have a Dream" speech, but she also played a direct role in turning that speech into one of the most memorable and meaningful in American history.
By 1956, Jackson was already internationally famous as the Queen of Gospel when she was invited by the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), to appear in Montgomery, Alabama, in support of the now-famous bus boycott that launched the modern Civil Rights Movement and made Rosa Parks a household name.
It was in Alabama that Jackson first met and befriended the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom she would support throughout his career. Indeed, if Dr. King, had a favorite opening act, it was Jackson, who performed by his side many times.
On August 28, 1963, as she took to the podium before an audience of 250,000 to give the last musical performance before the speech, Dr. King himself requested that she sing the gospel classic, "I've Been 'Buked, and I've Been Scorned."
Jackson was just as familiar with Dr. King's repertoire as he was with hers, and just as King felt comfortable telling her what to sing as the lead-in to what would prove to be the most famous speech of his life, Jackson felt comfortable telling him in what direction to take that speech.
The story that has been told since that day has Jackson intervening at a critical junction when she decided King's speech needed a course-correction. Recalling a theme she had heard him use in earlier speeches, Jackson said out loud to Martin Luther King, Jr., from behind the podium on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, "Tell them about the dream, Martin."
And at that moment, as can be seen in films of the speech, Dr. King leaves his prepared notes behind to improvise the entire next section of his speech — the historic section that famously begins…
"And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream...."
Here, Jackson performs “How I Got Over” at the march
On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., the African American civil rights movement reached its high-water mark when Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke to about 250,000 people attending the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
The demonstrators — black and white, poor and rich — came together in the nation's capital to demand voting rights and equal opportunity for African Americans and to appeal for an end to racial segregation and discrimination. The peaceful rally was the largest assembly for a redress of grievances that the capital had ever seen, and King was the last speaker.
With the statue of Abraham Lincoln — the Great Emancipator — towering behind him, King used the rhetorical talents he had developed as a Baptist preacher to show how, as he put it, the "Negro is still not free."
He told of the struggle ahead, stressing the importance of continued action and nonviolent protest. Coming to the end of his prepared text (which, like other speakers that day, he had limited to seven minutes), he was overwhelmed by the moment and launched into an improvised sermon.
He told the hushed crowd, "Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettoes of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair."
Continuing, he began the refrain that made the speech one of the best known in U.S. history, second only to Lincoln's 1863 "Gettysburg Address":
"I have a dream," he boomed over the crowd stretching from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument, "that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.' I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today."
King had used the "I have a dream" theme before, in a handful of stump speeches, but never with the force and effectiveness of that hot August day in Washington. He equated the civil rights movement with the highest and noblest ideals of the American tradition, allowing many to see for the first time the importance and urgency of racial equality.
He ended his stirring, 16-minute speech with his vision of the fruit of racial harmony:
"When we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'"
In the year after the March on Washington, the civil rights movement achieved two of its greatest successes: the ratification of the 24th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished the poll tax and thus a barrier to poor African American voters in the South; and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited racial discrimination in employment and education and outlawed racial segregation in public facilities.
In October, 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr., was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. On April 4, 1968, he was shot to death while standing on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee — he was 39 years old. The gunman was escaped convict James Earl Ray.
Here is film from King’s speech at the march
Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi 68 years ago today.
While visiting family in Money, Mississippi in 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till, an African American from Chicago, was brutally murdered for flirting with a white woman four days earlier.
His assailants — the white woman's husband and her brother — made Emmett carry a 75-pound cotton-gin fan to the bank of the Tallahatchie River and ordered him to take off his clothes. The two men then beat him nearly to death, gouged out his eye and shot him in the head. They then threw his body, tied to the cotton-gin fan with barbed wire, into the river.
Till grew up in a working-class neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, and though he had attended a segregated elementary school, he was not prepared for the level of segregation he encountered in Mississippi.
His mother warned him to take care because of his race, but Emmett enjoyed pulling pranks. On August 24, while standing with his cousins and some friends outside a country store in Money, Emmett bragged that his girlfriend back home was white.
Emmett's African American companions, disbelieving him, dared Emmett to ask the white woman sitting behind the store counter for a date. He went in, bought some candy, and on the way out was heard saying, "Bye, baby" to the woman.
There were no witnesses in the store, but Carolyn Bryant — the woman behind the counter — claimed that he grabbed her, made lewd advances and then wolf-whistled at her as he sauntered out.
Roy Bryant, the proprietor of the store and the woman's husband, returned from a business trip a few days later and found out how Emmett had spoken to his wife. Enraged, he went to the home of Till's great uncle, Mose Wright, with his brother-in-law J.W. Milam in the early morning hours of August 28.
The pair demanded to see the boy. Despite pleas from Wright, they forced Emmett into their car. After driving around in the Memphis night, and perhaps beating Till in a toolhouse behind Milam's residence, they drove him down to the Tallahatchie River.
Three days later, his corpse was recovered. It was so disfigured that Mose Wright could only identify it by an initialed ring. Authorities wanted to bury the body quickly, but Till's mother, Mamie Bradley, requested it be sent back to Chicago.
After seeing the mutilated remains, she decided to have an open-casket funeral so that all the world could see what racist murderers had done to her only son. Jet, an African American weekly magazine, published a photo of Emmett's corpse, and soon the mainstream media picked up on the story.
Less than two weeks after Emmett's body was buried, Milam and Bryant went on trial in a segregated courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi. There were few witnesses besides Mose Wright, who positively identified the defendants as Emmett's killers.
On September 23, the all-white jury deliberated for less than an hour before issuing a verdict of "not guilty," explaining that they believed the state had failed to prove the identity of the body. Many people around the country were outraged by the decision and also by the state's decision not to indict Milam and Bryant on the separate charge of kidnapping.
The Emmett Till murder trial brought to light the brutality of Jim Crow segregation in the South and was an early impetus of the African American civil rights movement.
Here’s a short film on the death of Emmett Till featuring Bob Dylan’s famous song.
(Left to right) Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara and John Cassavetes in the film, Husbands
Ben Gazzara was born 93 years ago today.
A film, stage and Emmy Award winning television actor and director, in the 1990s Gazzara appeared in 38 films, many for television. He worked with a number of renowned directors, such as the Coen brothers (The Big Lebowski), Spike Lee (Summer of Sam), David Mamet (The Spanish Prisoner), Walter Hugo Khouri (Forever), Todd Solondz (Happiness), John Turturro (Illuminata) and John McTiernan (The Thomas Crown Affair).
Some of the actor's most formidable characters were those he created with his friend, John Cassavetes, in the 1970s. They collaborated for the first time on Cassavetes's film, Husbands (1970), in which he appeared alongside Peter Falk and Cassavetes himself.
In The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), Gazzara took the leading role of the hapless strip-joint owner, Cosmo Vitelli. A year later, he starred in yet another Cassavetes-directed movie, Opening Night, as stage director, Manny Victor, who struggles with the mentally unstable star of his show, played by Cassavetes's wife, Gena Rowlands.
Gazzara was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1999. On February 3, 2012, he died at age 81 of pancreatic cancer at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York.
After a lifelong career, film director John Huston died of pneumonia at age 81 on this day in 1987 — 36 years ago.
Huston was the son of actor Walter Huston, a vaudeville performer who began appearing in films in 1929. John Huston performed on the vaudeville circuit from age three. As a teenager, he became an amateur boxer, quitting high school and eventually becoming the California lightweight champion.
Huston drifted in his 20s and 30s, working as a stage actor before moving to Mexico and joining the U.S. Cavalry. He wrote short stories and plays, worked as a reporter and collaborated on several screenplays, including Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932).
Finally, in 1937, he settled down and focused on screenwriting, then directing. He made his directing debut with The Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey Bogart. The film was a critical success, and Huston continued directing even during his stint in the army, during World War II, when he made several documentaries.
After the war, he directed another Bogart film, Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), which featured Walter Huston in a supporting role for which he won an Oscar. The film also won Best Screenplay and Best Director.
John Huston is known for courageously standing up to the House Un-American Activities Committee when it began persecuting suspected communists. He helped form the Committee for the First Amendment and eventually left the country as the practice of blacklisting suspected communists spread.
Huston settled in Ireland with his third wife, Ricki Soma, and their children. Daughter Anjelica Huston was raised in Britain, but her father later moved to Mexico. He continued, however, to direct. Among his best-known films are The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The African Queen (1951) and Prizzi's Honor (1985), for which Anjelica Huston won an Oscar.
Huston continued to work throughout his 70s, despite suffering from emphysema, which required him to use an oxygen tank.
I was lucky enough to attend a party with Huston in the 1980s and later direct a video of his memorial service in Hollywood. He was legend in an era in filmmaking that has long past.
Billy Grammer was born 98 years ago today.
Grammer was a country music singer and noted guitar player. He was known for the million-selling, "Gotta Travel On,” which made it onto both the country and pop music charts in 1959.
Grammer, the eldest of 13 siblings (nine boys and four girls), was born in Benton, Illinois. Signed by Monument Records in Nashville, he scored with "Gotta Travel On," written by Paul Clayton. The song peaked at #4 on the U.S. Pop Singles chart and peaked at #5 on the country chart in 1959. That same year, he became a regular cast member on the Grand Ole Opry.
Grammer named his band after his most notable hit as The Travel On Boys. "Gotta Travel On" was used as the opening song by Buddy Holly on his final tour in January and February, 1959, which ended in tragedy. He recorded the first chart version of Bobby Bare's, "Detroit City,” entitled, "I Wanna Go Home.” It hit the Billboard country chart in early 1963.
Grammer founded RG&G (Reid, Grammer & Gower) Company in 1965 with Clyde Reid and J.W. Gower. RG&G made the Grammer guitar from 1965 until 1968, when a fire consumed the factory in downtown Nashville. The company was then sold to Ampeg, and a new factory was erected down the street from the old one.
The company was renamed Grammer Guitar, Inc. (GGI). GGI produced the Grammer guitar until 1970. His guitar was installed into the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville on March 1, 1969.
Grammer suffered from a degenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa and became completely blind.
On February 27, 2009, he was honored by the Grand Ole Opry for his 50 year membership.
Grammer died on August 10, 2011 at age 85 at Benton Hospital, where had been receiving treatment for a long-term illness. He had suffered a heart attack seven months before his death.
Here, Grammer performs “Gotta Travel On.”
Al Aronowitz reads at a Beat Generation conference at NYU, 1994
Photo by Frank Beacham
Fifty-nine years ago today, The Beatles and Bob Dylan met for the first time and smoked a joint together. The Beatles had just played a concert in Queens on August 28, 1964.
Later, at the Delmonico Hotel in Manhattan, they met Bob Dylan, who was introduced by a friend, a reporter named Al Aronowitz. It was on this day that the Beatles were first introduced to marijuana by Dylan and Aronowitz, who had brought along the joint.
Dylan had assumed The Beatles were well acquainted with the drug, after mishearing the lyrics to “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” He mistakenly thought the line went “… and when I touch you I get high, I get high … ” instead of “I can’t hide, I can’t hide.”
Years later, Aronowitz, who became a personal friend, told me the story and I didn’t believe him — that is until I checked it out and found it to be true.
Aronowitz was quite a character. He was the original manager of The Velvet Underground, getting the band their first gig at a high school auditorium. Members of Velvet Underground stole Aronowitz's tape recorder and dumped him weeks later when they met Andy Warhol.
Aronowitz also claimed that Dylan wrote the song, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” while staying in his home in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. That I could never prove.
Back in the mid 1990s, Aronowitz and I bonded when we began exploring the internet for our work. I got there first, and Al was impressed since he was a technophobe. He wrote this about me in his, “The Blacklisted Journalist” column, and published it on the net in the mid-1990s:
“I have found a spiritual brother in my journalism-in-exile. By putting his writings on the Internet, Frank is doing the same thing I'm doing: addressing the future. In other words, talking to posterity. I write my pieces as if I'm addressing a friend of mine in cyberspace a thousand years from now. But in Frank, I feel I've found a friend of mine in cyberspace RIGHT NOW! Writing in cyberspace is not the same as chiseling it in stone, but I think stone erodes more easily. I try to write stuff that's going to last and I think Frank does, too,” Al wrote.
“Therefore, it is with great pride and pleasure that I sneak myself the honor of featuring Frank Beacham's page as a pre-eminent link to my own. That's because, in reading his (material), I immediately felt his mind to be linked to my own. In that one essay, Frank Beacham saw things exactly the way I see 'em. Reading only one essay, I immediately felt my brain connected to his brain...it took me only one of his essays to persuade me that Frank's one of my men.”
Al died on August 1, 2005 at age 77.
Paris, City of Love, at the Jardins des Tuileries, 1945