How the March on Washington Worked


Josh: Josh Clark

Chuck: Charles W. "Chuck" Bryant

Vo: Voiceover Speaker

MLK: Martin Luther King, Jr. (prerecorded)

Vo: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from HowStuffWorks.com.

[MUSIC]

Josh: Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark, there's Charles W. "Chuck" Bryant, and Jeri's over there. So it's Stuff You Should Know.

Chuck: Hey.

Josh: Hey, how's it going?

Chuck: It's going good.

Josh: It's not going so good for me. I'm having trouble loading up important pages here-important tabs on my computer.

Chuck: Oh, yeah?

Josh: Yeah, I don't know what the deal is.

Chuck: Huh.

Josh: Isn't that riveting podcasting?

Chuck: It sure is.

Josh: It's like Serial, the second season.

Chuck: [LAUGHS] Yeah.

Josh: Will Josh's tabs open?

Chuck: What's the deal with Josh's computer?

Josh: The tabs loaded, everybody, by the way, so thank you for your concern.

Chuck: So you feel good about this one?

Josh: Yeah, I do. There's a-it was yet again one of those topics that I knew somewhat about, probably as much as the average person. But digging into it, you really forget how polished and glossy history can become.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: And how-not necessarily, like, gritty or anything, but just definitely more complex and complicated and intricate than the final story ends up being.

Chuck: Yeah. Details.

Josh: Yeah. The important-

Chuck: Love the details.

Josh: They matter. No person exists in a vacuum, basically.

Chuck: Yeah, and coincidentally-or maybe kismetly-we asked Jeri, we were like, "Hey, can we have this released right around the King holiday?"

Josh: Uh-huh.

Chuck: And she said, "Dude, it is-happens to be scheduled."

Josh: Yeah. Before she even knew what it was going to be like.

Chuck: So.

Josh: This episode fell into that slot. It's the spirit of Dr. King.

Chuck: How about that? Like, sort of like our marijuana episode being the 420th release.

Josh: Which was-

Chuck: By complete accident.

Josh: Completely happenstance.

Chuck: So this is like that, but cooler.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: You know?

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: Because it's historical.

Josh: And it's important.

Chuck: Yes.

Josh: I mean, this is important history, you know what I'm saying?

Chuck: Yeah, man.

Josh: Not like the invention of Silly Putty.

Chuck: Well, really been getting into, here in my middle age, the Civil Rights Movement and history, and learning about that stuff. I think maybe to make up for my ancestry in the Deep South, you know?

Josh: Man, you know what's weird? It's like I hear that, like, more than ever. Just the last-just the events of 2014, like, really.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: It's not like my eyes were shut or anything or I was just unaware, but I've become more and more disenchanted and dispirited by the heritage that I have, as well. It's just-

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: Just that kind of studied obliviousness that the powers that be have about the plights of the people who aren't in power has really started to get to me more and more.

Chuck: Yeah, and I've had talks about this with a bunch of people, and the consensus I've come to is I can't be ashamed of anything.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: Here in 2015.

Josh: I mean, you didn't do anything personally.

Chuck: I didn't do anything and I don't know anything specific about my family other than they were, you know, white people living in rural Mississippi since the dawn of time and-

Josh: Mississippi, huh? [LAUGHS]

Chuck: I don't think they were the ones knocking on doors trying to, you know, encourage black people to vote, you know?

Josh: Right.

Chuck: I don't think they were the standouts. And so what can you do but try and be a good person and educate yourself and-

Josh: Yeah. Learn from it.

Chuck: Yeah, and make the Bryant name move forward in a different direction.

Josh: I think that's great.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: Good job, Chuck.

Chuck: So anyway I've been getting into; I've been reading a lot of stuff about it and saw that play in New York, I think I mentioned, with Bryan Cranston.

Josh: Oh. The LBJ play.

Chuck: Yeah, which really kind of got me reading a bunch of-because a lot of the stuff I didn't learn in school at all.

Josh: They don't teach you that much in school. Not as much as you think.

Chuck: No. Or they-

Josh: It seems like a torrent of information. It's a trickle at best.

Chuck: Or like you said, it's like a very kind of one-day glossy affair.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: Which we're about to do right now. [LAUGHS]

Josh: Right. Well, we're going to flesh it out a little more.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: And I have to say, this article, for being a three-page article on How Stuff Works, is pretty good.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: I don't recognize the author, but it's-

Chuck: There's a lot of beef in here.

Josh: Yeah. Some good detail. So we're talking today about the March on Washington, which took place on August 28th, I believe, 1963?

Chuck: Yeah. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is the official full name.

Josh: Yeah, which a lot of people don't realize that.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: And that's kind of a big deal that it has "jobs and freedom" because that title actually represents the marriage of two separate black civil right movements-

Chuck: Agendas. Yeah, movements.

Josh: Yeah, agendas. Married together under this common banner, which was at the time, kind of a big deal because there was a lot of rivalry among the different civil rights groups and their agendas, and to be able to come together, that was kind of huge.

Chuck: Yeah, and, you know, when I first hear about rivalries among those groups, I get a little disenchanted, but then when you start thinking about the task in front of them, if you assemble a group of suppressed people, everyone's going to have their own idea about the best way to move forward and to get something done.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: And so of course there were going to be rivalries between these groups because they all felt their path forward was the righteous one.

Josh: Yeah, and this was-and not even necessarily righteous, but right, you know? Like on-

Chuck: Effective.

Josh: On the one hand you have, say, A. Philip Randolph.

Chuck: Yeah, man.

Josh: Who was the head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: And-

Chuck: I looked into that a little bit. [LAUGHS]

Josh: Well, tell me about it.

Chuck: Well, I didn't even know what a Pullman porter was because, you know, I'm a modern kind of guy.

Josh: Uh-huh.

Chuck: But these were the people-essentially butlers and maids who worked on sleeping trains.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: Sleeping cars. And George Pullman in Chicago, of the Pullman Company, invented the sleeping train in the 1880s. And A. Philip Randolph, he was born in 1889.

Josh: Uh-huh.

Chuck: Like he was 74 years old when the March on Washington took place.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: He was not a young guy.

Josh: But he'd been at it for decades already.

Chuck: For decades.

Josh: As a civil rights crusader.

Chuck: And so basically what the deal was, was George Pullman hired black Americans to work as maids and butlers on these trains and it really sort of kind of entrenched that master-servant relationship even further. And even though the black community said these were pretty good jobs actually, because even though the pay wasn't that great, it was a steady job-you got to travel. So it was sort of looked upon as an elite job until they started to sort of look at the details and they were like, "Wait a minute. We don't have job security, our salary kind of stinks, we have to pay for our own uniforms and food and lodging." And so they got in touch with A. Philip Randolph, and then in 1925 he organized the union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: And eventually, even though they refused to negotiate with them, they were able to get that union. And in 1937 they-the Pullman Company signed a labor agreement with them. Got them a lot more rights as workers. But that's just one of the many, many things that he did. He was big into unions and organizing things.

Josh: Right. And especially seeing to it that the black population got the same kind of fair treatment as the white population. And you said that he became president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925?

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: So think about fighting-first of all you're a unionizer, which back in that day you could be gunned down by the state militia.

Chuck: Yeah. He was a socialist.

Josh: He definitely was.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: He was definitely-this is all basically a left movement.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: All of this. The March on Washington was. And he also-if you consider at the time-this is the Jim Crow era.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: So he's fighting for workers' rights, and then even more difficulty, he's fighting for black workers' rights.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: So this guy was a tough cookie, and a smart one too.

Chuck: Yeah. Martin Luther King called him the dean of negro leaders, and he was 40 years older than King, so he was really revered in the black community, for sure.

Josh: But rightly so. I mean, like he'd earned his chops, right?

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: And the March on Washington that came about in 1963 was actually the second one that Randolph proposed. He was the one that said we should have this March on Washington. We'll get to that. But in 1941 he also started to organize the same march.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: And it was for crusading for jobs for black workers to end discrimination among federal hiring, government and defense hiring, and federal agencies?

Chuck: Yeah. Basically FDR's New Deal was not, I mean, so favorable for black Americans. Like, it did a lot for the country, but they were still sort of ignored.

Josh: Sure.

Chuck: And pretty much barred from getting jobs-federal jobs and defense jobs. So FDR saw the writing on the wall, basically, with the-you don't want to call it a threat of a march, but-because it just sounds like militaristic.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: But it was a threat of a march.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: And so he signed-issued Executive Order 8802, the Fair Employment Practices Committee was created, and two million black Americans were employed by the defense industry by 1944. Which is great, but in 1946 the FEPC was disbanded and dissolved, so.

Josh: So it was a temporary win.

Chuck: A temporary win, but a win nonetheless. And they did not have that march because of that executive order.

Josh: Right. Which-

Chuck: Backed down.

Josh: I mean, imagine the credibility that Randolph got.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: Just immediately from that.

Chuck: Sure.

Josh: Like, he got the president to create an executive order based on something he was organizing. So that definitely catapulted his status, but he also learned, like, this is a pretty effective tool. Like, this isn't the big gun you want to bring out every time somebody pulls a peashooter on you.

Chuck: Right.

Josh: But, like, when stuff really becomes intractable, a march on Washington is not such a bad idea.

Chuck: No. Not a bad idea at all.

Josh: Like, you don't even necessarily have to do it.

Chuck: Yeah. So he was kind of recruited to head this up by the Negro American Labor Council, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. And so he wrote a letter to Secretary Stewart Udall in May of 1962-he was the Department of Interior-basically said, "Can we get our permits?" Like, the official request. And they got nervous immediately because he said we want to stop at the Lincoln Memorial and finish it up there. And they were like, "Well, rerouting traffic is gonna be tough. Why don't we send you here instead?" And they were pretty adamant about sticking to that route, and so they granted them the permits, which was the first sign to Kennedy, like-because Kennedy wasn't like, "Great. Let's do this."

Josh: Right.

Chuck: He was nervous about it, too.

Josh: Yeah. And it was-I mean, it was a big deal. You mentioned that-what's called Big Six, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Southern Christian Leadership Conference-that was Martin Luther King's Atlanta-based group.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which was led at the time by Representative John Lewis-our Representative Lewis.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: Who is still a firebrand in Congress.

Chuck: Heck yeah.

Josh: Who was 23 at the time and gave a speech at the march. The Conference on Racial Equality, which is known as CORE, the National Urban League, and the NAACP. All of these groups got together and we already said, like, there were rivalries among them.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: But not only were these-was it a big deal that these groups that were fighting for civil rights, like voting rights and the end of segregation and, like, civil rights, they got together with A. Philip Randolph's movement for economic justice.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: And rather than become confused or muddled or whatever- like, remember Occupy Wall Street? Everybody's like, "They have like ten million different demands."

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: A lot of people were worried that joining these things together would do the same thing. It didn't. It actually broadened it and it brought a lot of strength to the whole thing. And it all came down to a black feminist named Anna Arnold Hedgeman. And she brought King and Randolph together and said, "You guys need to make this happen. It'll make this march a million times better."

Chuck: Right.

Josh: I don't think that's a quote, but basically that's what she said.

Chuck: [LAUGHS]

Josh: And as a result, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was what the result was.

Chuck: Yeah. And bringing Martin Luther King on was certainly a master stroke, because this article describes the proposition as tepid to begin with.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: But the stage was set for August 28th. And right after this message break we'll get to a little bit of how mainstream media feared this march, right after this.

[MUSIC]

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[MUSIC]

Chuck: So, mainstream media probably thought this was a great idea, and all of Washington probably rallied around this, right?

Josh: They couldn't wait. Everybody made those needlepoint samplers that said, "Welcome, marching black people, to our streets."

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: They rolled out the red carpet.

Chuck: That is not true. This is our facetious voice.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: Mainstream media actually was in fear and they ran stories about this devolving into a riot and Kennedy said, "Let's call this off." And they said no. And liquor stores closed and bars closed and stores boarded up their windows, and in the end none of that happened, of course. It was very peaceful and-

Josh: Amazingly.

Chuck: Really well organized.

Josh: Like, I've read quotes where the organizers themselves said that, like, the peacefulness and the dignity of the whole thing exceeded even their expectations.

Chuck: Yeah, that's awesome.

Josh: Like, yeah. It was a colossally successful thing. And one of the reasons why there was such an amount of nervousness was not necessarily just because there were a quarter of a million people marching in Washington all at once for civil rights, but this thing took place at-and it's considered the pinnacle, the high watermark of 1963, which was an enormous year-the Birmingham campaign was going on down in Alabama, children were marching in the streets of Birmingham and police dogs were attacking them and they were being hit with fire hoses, people were being clubbed in the streets by Bull Connor and his police force, and it was being captured on TV. So, like, the American psyche was really being affected by the Civil Rights Movement right now, and there was a lot of momentum behind the people who were leading the Civil Rights Movement, especially Martin Luther King, who, you know, proved his own chops by being jailed in Birmingham for protesting.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: And he was kept in isolation for, like, eight days, I think.

Chuck: Wow.

Josh: And wasn't able to talk to anybody, I think including his lawyer. Finally his wife, Coretta Scott King, got in touch with JFK and said, "You got to do something because I don't know what they're going to do to my husband in jail."

Chuck: Yeah. He's lucky he survived that, to be honest.

Josh: Right. Well, it took the president to order the city of Birmingham to free him for him to get out.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: But it was a big deal. By the time this thing came about-by the time it was even announced, like, 1963 was a huge watershed year already.

Chuck: Yeah, and I think-I don't think we pointed out-like, 10 to 20% they estimate were white folks joining in for the rally, and I don't know about percentages, but I do know that a lot of Jewish people were really involved in the Civil Rights Movement.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: As volunteers helping to push that forward because they knew a thing or two about persecution, so I think they identified with the plight of the American black people. And so, like, Jewish folks from the Northeast basically. A lot of them came down south-a lot of students to volunteer for-not only this, but just the voter rights. Going door to door, I mean, as-we'll do a more in-depth one about voters rights maybe one day, but another two-I think two of the guys basically were murdered because they were going door to door trying to help black people register to vote.

Josh: Yeah. I don't know their names but I've heard about them.

Chuck: Yeah. I mean, murdered by the local police.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: Like, they just shot them on the side of the road basically.

Josh: Yeah. There was a-I think in 1963 there was a group of students that were going to Birmingham, which was, like, the center of the universe as far as the civil rights struggle in the U.S. was going, and again, Bull Connor, the head of the police department gave his police department-the whole thing-the day off so that there was nobody to protect these students that were going to protest in Birmingham.

Chuck: That's just, like-I have a hard time talking about this stuff.

Josh: So, but consider this is the stage that we're setting. Like, this is the state of the country. There's, like, on television you can see black kids being attacked by police dogs in your country. In Washington, D.C., if you lived there, you're worried that that same stuff is going to go on on your streets. There's like a lot of turmoil going on. So-

Chuck: Yeah. Two months, two months before this happened Medgar Evers was shot in his driveway and killed in Jackson, Mississippi, after coming home from going door to door and encouraging poor African Americans to register to vote. And a white supremacist name-I don't even feel like reading his name-De La Beckwith-Byron De La Beckwith basically pulled up and shot him in the back with a rifle. Got acquit-not acquitted, but there were two hung juries by all white male jurors.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: And he remained free until 1994, when they finally came back and retried him as an old man and-

Josh: I remember that.

Chuck: Found him guilty. And he spent like the last six years of his life in prison before he died. But he was just human trash because he remained steadfastly white supremacist until the end, was not sorry. His son followed in his footsteps and was just an ugly human being and-

Josh: I think James Woods played him in a movie.

Chuck: Oh, was that who he played?

Josh: I'm pretty sure it was James Woods.

Chuck: Yeah, he's pretty slimy. [LAUGHS]

Josh: He can do the job.

Chuck: Not in real life, but he can-

Josh: He can do the job.

Chuck: He can do slimy. But yeah, so this is two months previous that Medgar Evers was killed. So it was a super-charged time and people were nervous, for good reason.

Josh: And to our white supremacist listeners, if you're at all offended by Chuck's characterization here-

Chuck: Just tune out.

Josh: Don't even bother emailing us.

Chuck: [LAUGHS] No. I don't think we have-

Josh: We don't care at all what you have to say.

Chuck: No. We have enlightened listeners.

Josh: I think so too.

Chuck: Sure.

Josh: So 1963-huge year. They announce in June that they're going to carry out this march in August. And like you said, JFK was like, "No. Please don't do that."

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: And they said, "You know what, Mr. President? You have proven yourself as not very reliable trying to get the Civil Rights Act through Congress." It was just languishing there. And the black civil rights leaders were like-the Brown vs. Board of Education happened in 1955, I believe. Desegregated schools.

Chuck: Yeah, officially.

Josh: In 1963 there were plenty of schools that still weren't desegregated.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: All of these things that they had been fighting for incrementally, bit by bit. Every battle that they'd won were still not necessarily being fulfilled. And Kennedy didn't really seem to care that much. So when he asked them as president not to do the march, they basically said, "You don't really have any clout with us right now, so we're going to do this."

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: And they did. And they announced it in June and they marched in August. And the reason they were able to do that was thanks almost entirely to a guy named Bayard Rustin.

Chuck: Yeah. He's my new hero.

Josh: I love this guy. There's a documentary on him actually. It's called Brother Outsider.

Chuck: Yeah. I was going to watch it today but I didn't have time.

Josh: Is it on the internet? I only saw it on DVD.

Chuck: Oh, I don't know.

Josh: Yeah. I looked for it.

Chuck: You could probably get clips of it. Piece it together on YouTube [LAUGHS].

Josh: A trailer.

Chuck: Yeah. This guy, man. You talk about outsiders, he-and this is in 1963-was openly gay, he was-

Josh: Walked with a cane.

Chuck: Walked with a cane, he was black-

Josh: But for fun.

Chuck: He-oh, was it really?

Josh: That's the impression I had from this.

Chuck: Like, he didn't have an injury?

Josh: No, he just-

Chuck: Had flair?

Josh: He used a cane. He had flair.

Chuck: He was-I don't know if he was an actual Quaker. His grandmother was a Quaker.

Josh: Uh-huh.

Chuck: And he followed in her footsteps-or was at least informed by her religion-and was also, I think, a socialist and-

Josh: Most of these people were if not at, like, self-identified socialists, carried out a lot of or held on to a lot of socialist ideals like workers' rights, like the power of labor to-and the right of labor to unionize and organize and the basic value of a human being.

Chuck: Yeah, I mean, as far as outsiders go, though, you could have just stopped at openly gay in 1963.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: Much less everything else.

Josh: Plus he apparently had a knack for art collecting. He had an eye for buying or finding art on the cheap that turned out to be, like, really great.

Chuck: Well, he was a Renaissance man. He used to quote poetry and, like, he was the guy to organize this thing because apparently his skills at bringing people together were legendary.

Josh: And also, Chuck, probably the thing that is most remarkable about Bayard Rustin, as far the lasting legacy goes, was that he met Martin Luther King in the early '50s-the early to mid '50s-I think 1956. And at the time, MLK had not fully embraced the idea of complete nonviolent protest and resistance. He was still, like, guarded by armed guards and, like, that kind of stuff.

Chuck: Right.

Josh: It was Rustin Bayard who brought this Gandhi, Gandhi-ism.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: This thought of nonviolent protest and talked Dr. King into like-

Chuck: Wow.

Josh: -really embracing it a hundred percent.

Chuck: That's awesome.

Josh: It was this guy.

Chuck: Well, he did a great job. In just two months he was able to completely organize this thing from soup to nuts-coach all the volunteers, teach everyone how to have a nonviolent, you know, protest basically, of this size. Because it's not just like, "Hey, don't be violent." They may have encountered violence, and how to respond to that in a nonviolent way was super important. He created a 12-page manual for bus captains apparently on-I mean, handled everything from where to park, to how to park, to where the bathrooms are. And then maybe, most importantly, he was responsible for putting together the run of show and getting these very large egos enough time per person to where they all felt like they were cared for.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: Because even though they all had the same goal, these were people who have big egos. You can't get in a position like that if you don't have some sort of ego.

Josh: Sure.

Chuck: And you want your time at the podium.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: You know, there were singers, speakers, public prayers, and he was able to navigate those ego waters very well. Yeah.

Josh: So Chuck, we'll talk a little bit more about Rustin Bayard and what he did and then talk about the actual march itself.

Chuck: Heck yeah.

Josh: Right after this.

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[MUSIC]

Josh: So Chuck, we were talking about Rustin Bayard and the job he did putting this whole thing together. But as well as he organized it and as well as it was pulled off, even before it went down there was a lot of criticism of it.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: Especially from the farthest, I guess, fringes of the Civil Rights Movement.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: Like what was the guy who followed John Lewis and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee? "Stokey" Carmichael.

Chuck: Yes.

Josh: He was a huge outspoken critic.

Chuck: Stokely.

Josh: Stokely Carmichael. He was a huge outspoken critic of the march. Basically he said, "This is not nearly radical enough. This is the watered-down"-

Chuck: Sanitized.

Josh: -"Middle-class, sanitized version of the real Civil Rights Movement and I'm not going to have anything to do with it."

Chuck: Yeah. Malcolm X kind of denounced it as well, and called it "The Farce on Washington," and said-told his fellow Nation of Islam members don't go, even though he did go. I don't think he necessarily went to support; I think he was probably just checking things out.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: You know? But he didn't, like, join anyone on stage. He was still denouncing it.

Josh: Right. And then this, I mean, this was a real criticism of this that, you know, as radical as the white establishment thinks this agenda is-"Ooh, you're asking to not be discriminated at the polls," you know? Like, guys like Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X are saying, "You need to go further than this. Like, if you're going to use something this big, you need to really carry out a bigger agenda." And one of the things that added fuel to their arguments was the news that John Lewis-who, again, was 23 and the head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee-had had his speech watered down by some of the other leaders.

Chuck: Yeah. Not just other leaders, but, like, the Catholic Archbishop of Washington, D.C. Basically it was-the speech was circulated to a bunch of different people and everyone came back and said, "You know, you need to tone this down. You can't be-call out Kennedy quite so plainly."

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: Because he said Kennedy's act-the Civil Rights Act was too little, too late. And then his most famous quote that was, I guess, deleted pretty much, was, "We want to march through the South through the heart of Dixie, the way Sherman did. We will pursue our own scorched-earth policy."

Josh: Hyphen.

Chuck: Huh?

Josh: There's a hyphen after that-"in a nonviolent way."

Chuck: Oh, did he say that?

Josh: [LAUGHS] Yeah.

Chuck: Was that how he finished it?

Josh: But even, still, there was a hyphen and then, like, "Oh, yeah. In a nonviolent way."

Chuck: Yeah. So they basically held a caucus and they all got together and he said that he was still very proud and it was a very strong speech.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: And I think everyone has a good point on the best way to move forward, but for the kind of press this thing was getting, and at the time they were probably wise to sanitize it a little bit for middle America.

Josh: Well, yeah.

Chuck: You know? Just to reach more people.

Josh: I mean, if you think about it, though, for better or for worse, once John Lewis-once his post was taken over by Stokely Carmichael, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee eventually changed its name to take out the "Nonviolent."

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: And was replaced with "National," I think. And it just kept getting more and more militant. And Stokely Carmichael wrote Black Power;he also coined the term.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: But the militant black power movement wasn't trying to-and we should do an episode just on that.

Chuck: Yeah, totally.

Josh: They weren't trying to make themselves palatable for, you know, white middle America.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: They were trying to take over, assert their position, however they needed to. And I agree with you, I just don't think the March on Washington, sitting back with this much hindsight, would've had the impact that it did necessarily had it had that much more militant tone to it.

Chuck: Oh, totally. I mean, their goal was progress, not to, like, scare white Americans watching this on television, which is exactly what would have happened.

Josh: Sure.

Chuck: You know?

Josh: But that's a pickle, though, you know?

Chuck: Oh, totally.

Josh: I mean, like, that is a-those are definitely two different way to achieve an end and, you know, is the sanitized, watered-down version that's palatable to, you know, white middle America-

Chuck: I know.

Josh: Is that the best way? Or ultimately, you get to a point where you're like, is this really making things go anywhere?

Chuck: Right.

Josh: Or is this really just really kind of allowing more of the same?

Chuck: Well, and how hard it must be to temper your anger and frustration and tamp that stuff down to try and reach more people, you know?

Josh: Right.

Chuck: Like, to me that makes it even more brave and courageous.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: You know?

Josh: And, well, MLK actually addressed that a little bit in his speech, where he basically says like, "If you're sitting there thinking, like, the black people are going to just-we're blowing off steam right now and things will cool off, so I don't really have to do anything," he says, "You're in for a rude awakening, because if things don't change we're going to take it back to the street and we're going to-like, it's going to get even worse."

Chuck: Like, this is the nice version. [LAUGHS]

Josh: Exactly, yeah.

Chuck: All right. So we are at the event, and what civil rights event in the 1960s would have been complete without a bunch of white liberal celebrities joining in?

Josh: [LAUGHS] I know.

Chuck: Thank God for them. So of course, you had Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston, which I don't know if that surprises me or not.

Josh: Charlton Heston?

Chuck: Yeah. Maybe he wasn't just across the board one way politically.

Josh: Maybe he just happened to be walking around D.C. at the time and was-

Chuck: Yeah. Or maybe he championed civil rights and he loved his guns and-

Josh: I don't know enough about him.

Chuck: He could both.

Josh: I just remember seeing him being berated by Michael Moore.

Chuck: Yeah, sure.

Josh: On Bowling for Columbine. And then, of course, Planet of the Apes.

Chuck: Yeah. [LAUGHS]

Josh: But I don't really know that much about him.

Chuck: You know, as much as, like, I don't know, as passionate as I feel about guns and things, I feel equally passionate about badgering old folks.

Josh: Yeah, really.

Chuck: And I felt kind of bad for him. I was like-

Josh: Oh, yeah.

Chuck: Oh, man.

Josh: Michael Moore took a lot of guff for that.

Chuck: He's just like an old dude that you're yelling at in his driveway.

Josh: Not just old, like senile.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: In his home.

Chuck: Yeah. [LAUGHS] But we can laugh about it now. [LAUGHS] Bob Dylan, of course, was one of the performers, John Baez, Peter, Paul & Mary.

Josh: Yeah. Pre-electric Bob Dylan.

Chuck: And then we had some famous black stalwarts like Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte and Josephine Baker.

Josh: Mahalia Jackson sang.

Chuck: Yeah. And did I mention James Garner was there?

Josh: Yeah, which is pretty cool. I remember when he died-

Chuck: It's very cool.

Josh: -they mentioned that he-

Chuck: Really?

Josh: -was, like, a big crusader for civil rights.

Chuck: That's awesome.

Josh: And he was one of the few that, like, really, you know, put in the legwork.

Chuck: Yeah,

Josh: Like, he didn't-it wasn't just lip service.

Chuck: He was Rockford, dude.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: He was all about the legwork.

Josh: Yes.

Chuck: He would try around the country in his-

Josh: And running away from getting beat up.

Chuck: [LAUGHS] In his gold Camaro.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: So the show opened up basically with-I think Joan Baez opened up with the song "Oh, Freedom," and then led a sing along of "We Shall Overcome." And then Peter, Paul, & Mary awkwardly covered Bob Dylan.

Josh: I know.

Chuck: [LAUGHS] With Dylan sitting right there.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: With their version of "Blowing in the Wind," and then Dylan followed up with-

Josh: The toothpaste version.

Chuck: [LAUGHS] Yeah.

Josh: Toothpaste commercial. Remember that from A Mighty Wind?

Chuck: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. That was funny. [LAUGHS] And then Dylan followed them with his new song about the murder of Medgar Evers, called "Only a Pawn in Their Game," and-

Josh: Which lasted 19 minutes.

Chuck: Is that a joke?

Josh: Yeah. [LAUGHS]

Chuck: [LAUGHS] Okay. Dylan has some long songs.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: It may have been. What else? Contralto Anderson sang the Negro spiritual "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands"-a great tune. And Mahalia Jackson, I think, closed things, right before King's speech, with "I've Been 'Buked and I've Been Scorned." So they had people, like, fired up, basically, with great entertainment, meaningful entertainment, and the stage was set for the MCs Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee to introduce Martin Luther King for his now famous speech, which at the time-at least they say in this article-it wasn't the "end all, be all." But over time it has gained more and more steam as, like, the sort of the-you know, the watershed moment.

Josh: Right. Like, Life magazine covered the March on Washington. The issue that followed the march didn't have MLK on the cover; it had Bayard Rustin and A. Philip Randolph on it.

Chuck: Yeah. It's pretty awesome actually.

Josh: And I mean, that's how a lot of people viewed the march for a very long time. I mean, it was A. Philip Randolph's idea; Bayard Rustin planned it. MLK lent a ton of star power to it and by signing on, a lot of other people signed on, too. But it wasn't until-and I've seen this elsewhere, it's not in this article alone-but it supposedly wasn't until MLK was assassinated that a lot of people that had formally been just kind of sympathetic or whatever, like really came to adopt, like, his viewpoint.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: And tragically, his death propelled the Civil Rights Movement forward.

Chuck: Sure.

Josh: And one of the byproducts of that was that this speech became to become what the March on Washington was. But for the five years after the march, until MLK was assassinated, that wasn't really the case.

Chuck: Yeah. And the main thrust of the speech, even though it's remembered now-well, if you've never listened to the whole thing you should do that, by the way. But, you know, it's best remembered for the famous quote: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation and will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." The main thrust of this script, though, was the-or the script-the speech-which was scripted.

Josh: Sure.

Chuck: Was the bad check that America had written, basically, with the quote, "Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, American has given the negro people a bad check. A check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds.'" And apparently after this, you know, bit about the bad check and basically saying that you promised everyone freedom and you're not giving everyone freedom, Mahalia Jackson behind him-one of his friends said, "Tell them about the dream," and that's when he improvised that section at the end which was so powerful that he had-he improvised it, but it was something that he had used in sermons previous.

Josh: Right. But he was riffing during the speech at that point.

Chuck: Pretty much. Quite a riff. I've riffed; I ain't riffed like that.

Josh: Not like that.

Chuck: You know what I'm sayin'? And so after that, they met with Kennedy and Johnson, and Kennedy was going to get the votes lined up to get the Civil Rights Act passed, but was shot and killed, as we all know.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: And so then that fell to Johnson, which is what that play that Cranston is in covers, is from basically the moment he took office and the whole rigmarole with trying to get the Civil Rights Act passed through.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: Which I think Kennedy-I don't think he was against it. I think he was just a politician above all else.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: And cared only about being a politician that gets reelected.

Josh: Well, apparently he had a-he went through a little bit of a transformation. He wasn't adamantly opposed. He wasn't a segregationist, but he certainly wasn't like a black civil rights crusader by any means.

Chuck: He wasn't Bobby Kennedy.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: You know?

Josh: Yeah. But, yeah. I think he was-also there was a certain amount of ineffectiveness with Congress or whatever, where LBJ would just beat you with a switch until you voted the way he wanted you to. He just wouldn't leave you alone.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: You just kind of did what he said if he wanted something done, which is how he managed to get the Voting Rights Act passed.

Chuck: Yeah. He had a hard time, though. They should make a movie version of that play, I think, to get it out to more people.

Josh: Maybe they will.

Chuck: It was really fascinating. It was kind of like Lincoln. The movie wasn't like, "Here's Lincoln's life." It's like here's-

Josh: A really important part of Lincoln's life?

Chuck: Well, here's the act of act of trying to get the amendment passed.

Josh: Well, they probably will.

Chuck: You know?

Josh: If it was that good, they will.

Chuck: I want-I haven't seen Selma yet. Have you seen that?

Josh: No, I haven't.

Chuck: I'm dying to see that.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: It's supposed to be really good.

Josh: So LBJ gets the Voting Rights Act passed, the Civil Rights Act passed.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: And also it didn't mention this anywhere and I didn't really see it elsewhere, but the Great Society, the War on Poverty came about in, like, 1964, '65. And I'm pretty sure that all of those things-the passage of all those things were a direct result of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Chuck: Oh, really?

Josh: Yeah. That march got those things pushed through. It didn't hurt that Kennedy was assassinated and LBJ definitely played on that to get Congress to pass through, because he even called the passage of those acts "a fitting tribute to JFK."

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: But that show of agreement of a quarter of a million people-black and white and Jewish and I'm sure there were like Chicano people there-that's what they called them back then-

Chuck: Sure.

Josh: They were a-it wasn't just black people.

Chuck: Right.

Josh: Showing up in D.C., going through the trouble of driving all over the country to get to D.C. to march to say, "This is what we want."

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: That had a huge effect, a direct impact on this legislation change.

Chuck: Totally. All kinds of minorities jumping on board. For sure. It's a beautiful thing. And since those acts were passed there's been no more racism in the United States.

Josh: No. That was it. It ended right then.

Chuck: [LAUGHS]

Josh: When LBJ signed those. Everything was cheery after that.

Chuck: Still a long way to go, people. Do your part.

Josh: Still being facetious here.

Chuck: And we would love to close the show by playing the entirety of that speech, but I looked it up today to see if it was in the public domain, and surprisingly, it is not. It is owned by the King family.

Josh: So where can you go listen to it then?

Chuck: Well, I've listened to it on YouTube and I posted it on our Facebook page last year on YouTube.

Josh: Oh, yeah?

Chuck: So I don't know if they just don't police it as much, but I know they have gone to court a few times suing CBS, USA Today. Apparently they are not against educators that have used the speech.

Josh: Ah.

Chuck: But King himself obtained the rights one month after he gave the speech and some people-a lot of people, in fact-the historians have come out and said, "You know what? You should release this. You're making a big mistake. It can only help the cause to get it out to more and more ears in full." Because it's one thing to read it, it's another thing to hear it. And they have declined so far, so we'll see what happens in the future. Oddly enough, EMI Publishing, along with the King family, owns the publishing copyrights, which was sold off to Sony. So the Sony Corporation technically now partially owns the "I Have A Dream Speech."

Josh: [LAUGHS] Great.

Chuck: Which is such a weird ending.

Josh: Progress.

Chuck: Yeah, yeah.

Josh: Let's see.

Chuck: We can play a snippet though, for sure.

Josh: Oh, we can?

Chuck: Yeah. Let's-we should end with a snippet.

Josh: All right. Well, if you want to get-oh, do you have a listener mail in? Or should we just do the snippet?

Chuck: I do have a listener mail, then we'll do the snippet. How about that?

Josh: Okay. All right. Well, if you want to know more about the March on Washington, you should check out actually an article in Dissent magazine called "The Forgotten Radical History of the March on Washington." It's from Spring 2013, it's online. It's pretty great. And then also, don't forget to check out our own article on HowStuffWorks.com. Just type that in the search bar and it will bring us up. And since I said search bar it's time for listener mail.

[CHIMES]

Chuck: I'm going to call this from Chris, about Jim Henson. "Hey guys, I really want to express my appreciation for yesterday's episode. I'm a huge fan on Henson, so on any ordinary day it would have been great to hear the two of you cover such an amazing person. However, it came at a time when I really needed a positive distraction. Tuesday was one of the most difficult days of my life. I had to have my dog put to sleep. Jupiter was 13-and-a-half years old. She'd been with me since she was a puppy. She was my best friend and imagining life without her is difficult. So Monday and Tuesday were full of tears and your show really helped take my mind off the sadness. I've been a fan for years and realized this morning that I listened to you guys for the first time while walking Jupiter. So you've accompanied us on many walks since. I'm a huge fan of Jim Henson, as I said, and managed New England's only year-round non-profit puppet theater, the Puppet Showplace Theater, for four years before moving to D.C. to pursue a master's of fine arts degree in nonfiction filmmaking. My thesis project, which I'm currently in preproduction on, utilizes puppets to introduce kids to history." That's kind of cool. "It's called 'Footnotes: A Sockumentary.'"

Josh: [LAUGHS]

Chuck: See what he did there?

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: "You can find a description at Sockumentary.com. The thesis is partially funded by the Mr. Rogers Memorial Scholarship, which is provided by the Television Academy Foundation. I encourage you to consider Fred Rogers as a future episode topic, because like Henson, he was such a talented guy, often marginalized by society." I'd totally love to do one on Mr. Rogers.

Josh: Sure. That'd be a great one.

Chuck: Yeah, man. "I really enjoyed the show and appreciate what you guys do. One day in the future, your talents may be recognized by a couple of knuckleheads with a podcast." So I think he called us knuckleheads.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: And hoped that someone covered us one day.

Josh: There's a little bit of weird backhanded complimentness there.

Chuck: [LAUGHS] So that's from Chris Higgins in email with Chris today. Very sorry to hear about Jupiter, and best of luck with Sockumentary.com. People can go and check that out. I'm all for puppets.

Josh: Sure. Especially punny-named puppets.

Chuck: That's right.

Josh: Well, if you want to get in touch with us to let us know that we're knuckleheads, or for whatever reason, you can tweet to us at SYSKPodcast, you can join us on Facebook.com/StuffYouShouldKnow, you can send us an email to StuffPodcast@HowStuffWorks.com, and as always, join us at our home on the web, StuffYouShouldKnow.com. And now, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLK: 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're free at last!"

[END RECORDING]