The Official Story Circa August 1963

Page 15, fifth paragraph: that was the one and only mention in the Washington Post of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. As Robert Kaiser writes in the Post’s August 24, 2013 opinion page, on the day after, “The Post published two dozen stories about the march. Every one missed the importance of King’s address….Perhaps this anniversary provides a good moment to cop a plea. We blew it.” The New York Times, which has its original coverage from 1963 on its front web page today, did have a page one story entitled “I Have A Dream,” but below the fold. The main headline emphasized “Orderly Washington Rally” and “President Sees Gain For Negro.” King and Roy Wilkins, head of the NAACP, were on Meet The Press three days before the march. Watching YouTube clips, what struck me was that the burden was on King and Wilkins to prove two negatives: we are not “infiltrated by Communists” and we are not going to riot. The Guardian has a piece on its site reminding us of the brilliant organizing and coalition-building work of Bayard Rustin, the gay black Quaker pacifist who was the principal organizer of the great march, and also of the infighting inside the movement over whether he should be allowed to be involved.

The actual history behind the March is uplifting, but also complicated and sobering, as it reminds us how the powers that be have a habit of creating bogeymen to distract people from problematic, offensive, and unjust elements of the status quo. Who has the skill and resources and leverage now to place the moral burden where it needs to be, and to deflect the inevitable insinuations of disorderliness and turpitude?

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One thought on “The Official Story Circa August 1963

  1. Terrific.

    I was there and heard the speech. Very fuzzy audio. Lot’s of other great speeches and moments. Not clear that it was going to be iconic.

    I had slepty outdoor in a park, so maybe I wasn’t as alert as I might have been.

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