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tv   [untitled]    April 16, 2012 1:30am-2:00am EDT

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and she did her best to try to persuade them that roosevelt was serious about this memorandum and that it was really going to take effect and they said, no way. we're not doing it. we're not going to change it. we've got our plans. we're going to march silently up pennsylvania avenue. we're going to go by the white house and then we're going to assemble at the lincoln memorial and we are going to show the people of this country and the nation and the world that african-american citizens are not treated with equality. and we're doing it. thanks for meeting with us. bye. so, then roosevelt decided that he had to meet with them. but this was the only way they were going to get action. and he did. and it was quite a meeting.
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it was an historic meeting. not only the president was there but the secretaries of the war and the navy, all the major officials involved with the defense program and a. philip randolph and walter white, the president of the national association for colored people. even with this sense of gathering all these important, busy people in june, in late june of 1941, those of you who know military history well, will know that this is a period in which the nazi government is in the process of planning to break their pact with the soviet union and is on the brink of invading the soviet union, this is a period in which poland is under -- it has just fallen. this is a crucial moment in the war. and all these men are called
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into the office to meet with these two men. and roosevelt starts by trying to tell stories and jokes. and randolph has to interrupt them and say, you know, we're here to talk about the problem of negros' participation in the armed services and the defense industry. so roosevelt tried to just say, you know, i'm opposed to this. and he started listing his reasons. he said that the march would make other people think that the negros are seeking to exercise force to compel the government to do certain things with their silent march and their assembly at the lincoln memorial. he did express concern that was probably appropriate that such a march might cause race riots in the still very segregated climate of washington d.c. and
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then he complained, his final complaint in the series was that if the negro march was held he was afraid that soon the irish and jewish people would also take to the streets of washington. so in this series of complaints he rehearsed the traditional arguments against why people should not use the streets of washington for their political causes, that it was an inappropriate use of pressure, that it might inspire violence, and worst of all ha they might encourage everybody to protest in washington. randolph said, so what? we're respectable. we're dignified. we have a good cause. we're coming. so then roosevelt tried to figure out what the threat was. he turned to randolph and he said, how many people do you plan to bring? and randolph said in his deep voice, 100,000, mr. president.
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and roosevelt turned to walter wright who he trusted more and asked, walter, how many people really will march? tell me the real story. white replied that he expected no less than 100,000. they stared at each other and then roosevelt started to negotiate. and he committed to put the force and weight of his office behind the effort to secure jobs for qualified negros and he left by proposing they create a committee, which didn't sound too good at first, but they managed to hammer out an agreement in which this committee, the fair employment practices committee, created by the executive order, would actually have the power to
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discipline companies who discriminated in defense contracts. so, in this moment -- in this key moment -- this march on washington most certainly did make a difference. but it came at the cost of canceling it. once it was signed, on june 25, randolph proceeded to announce for the advancement of colored people -- at the meeting of the committee for the advancement of colored people that the march was off. a call was made on most radio stations that touched most african-americans and they called off the negro march on washington. now, this march would prove to be extraordinarily effective. it used the rhetoric of
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citizenship, it used an international threat of international embarrassment, and it used a legitimate claim to put pressure on the president. it also used the capitol space, it threatened to use the capitol spaces in a way that would prove especially embarrassing to the united states on the eve of war. the notion of african-americans marching peaceably up pennsylvania avenue and then assembling at the lincoln memorial, using that space to display their place in the nation when that place was so treated unequally was incredibly powerful. but could it be recreated? and this is what i will conclude
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with, is to think some about could that happen again? that special power. there were special circumstances. it was the eve of war. it was a situation in which there were grounds to negotiate. it was a situation in which you had extremely savy organizers who were willing to play a very tough game. and in its wake, in some ways, i think that potential was no longer as possible. and if we think about the 1963 march just briefly, and some of the characters -- the characteristics of it, we can think about why that potential became less powerful. on one hand, one thing that became clear is that future presidents did not want to be put in this position and they decided that it would be better to not get so concerned about
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any potential demonstration that they would mead to go to such efforts to -- that they would need to go to such efforts to force its cancellation. so they got much better at figuring out whether or not such marches would result in real threats, and you can see the development in the wake of this march and over the 1940's and 1950's of much more sophisticated plans on the part of police forces, the military, the various groups and officials with authority over this capitol on how to respond to marches. the other part was that that legacy, the legacy of the threat of making a march powerful because it had so many people, that conversation about 100,000 people, became an increasingly important part of future marches. we all know about how how many people you get to come to your march becomes often the most
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important part of the discussion and you could see that clearly in the planning of the 1963 march on washington. they wanted to be big. they were committed to being big. they made claims that they were going to be big. and they were big. but if you want to be big, you've got to do some things that make it more difficult to have that kind of confrontation, that immediacy. one, the march on washington for jobs and freedom was partially designed to put pressure on congress for the civil rights bill. but they realized once they started organizing it that their initial idea that they would have it as soon as they started debating the march on -- the civil rights bill in congress was going to prove difficult. because you wouldn't know what day that would happen. so, you have to take a date.
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you can't just have a march on any day and expect 100,000 people to show up that quickly, at least not in 1963. it may prove this weekend that four weeks' planning is possible to get 100,000 people to the city of washington but not in 1963 and not for a march that involves integrating both blacks and whites into the march. and they also, in order to get that turnout, they had to be determined to be peaceful. and in this, they turned to close cooperation with the kennedy administration to ensure it. and that meant it took away that element of surprise and independence that the earlier organizers had. the result was the forging, in my mind, and i use that word as what it should mean, a word forging is something that is hard to do. you have to forge metal. you have to bring things
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together. and that's what organizers over the course of a century did in making the tradition of marching on washington. but in making a -- forging a tradition, you also give up something. you give up that surprise factor if you want to be big and peaceful. you give up that sense of radicalism that inspired some of the earlier marches. and you also have the obscure and somewhat difficult to deal with fact that they now are seeing it so traditional that almost anyone can, on the surface, accept them. i've been on a number of call in shows about my book and people call up and say things like,
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well, you know, i get it. it's ok. these anti-war protestors are, you know, they're fine. they've got their right to march. but i'm not going to argue with you about that. but you know, they've got this problem or that problem. and when condoleezza rice was asked, you know, is the administration concerned about these protests, are they doing anything to stop these protests? she said, oh, no. oh, no. people have the right to protest. it's not a problem. we don't mind it. so there can be that air of nonconcern that did not have that same poin yensy of some of the earlier demonstrations. but, nevertheless, i would still argue firmly that this tradition is very powerful and this custom, this method of political participation, is extraordinarily important. over the years of protests, people have learned to make washington into a people's
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capitol. they have made public spaces, including the mall, many of the areas around the capitol, to a great extent pennsylvania avenue, spaces that almost any group can gain access to if they're willing to be peaceful and not too disruptive. and this is a space that can be used for a variety of political purposes by making it something that is accepted, groups from a far greater range of political persuasions now march on washington than ever would have been imagined in the 1930's or the 1940's. the variety of groups. and they can be used both to build movements, to confirm movements, and to inspire others to think seriously about political causes.
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and those others are sometimes the person standing next to you in a demonstration or the person watching you on television and sometimes the president and sometimes the citizens of another country to take inspiration from the washington citizens or the citizens of america expressing their views on an issue. so i think that over the years it has become a tradition but it's a tradition that still has the potential to influence our country and ourselves. so thank you. >> we have time for some questions. i'd just ask people to speak up.
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>> i will field them and do my best with them. >> i happen to remember the march on washington very, very clearly and something you said just brought this to my mind. on the day of the march, downtown washington with the exception of the police was absolutely deserted. businesses, everybody closed up. there was such a fear that riots would break out. these folks were peaceful as you could imagine. subsequent plans for marches on washington, i don't know whether local business people or if it was getting easier to handle this but they don't seem to close up and leave anymore. >> no. i think that was, i mean, there was an element in which there was a whole fear atmosphere surrounding the march on washington despite these efforts on the part of both the kennedy
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sfration -- administration and especially the organizers to assure everyone there was going to be no civil disobedience. there was going to be no disruption. but the city commissioners were quite concerned about it so they actually passed an unheard of resolution banning the sale of alcohol on the day of the march. i mean, they literally seemed to feel that, like, this -- they seemed to think that this group of african-americans, forgetting the many whites were also going to participate, were going to come down to washington, get drunk and cause a riot. so they actually, since prohibition is the only time they did this, so there was an element of fear and kennedy, despite being -- praising the march, proclaiming it was part of a great tradition in american protest, which i was a bit of an historical re-creation at the time, not completely accurate, he did also have an arrangement
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for troops to be moved up closer to the capitol and to ensure that there were adequate police force. the policemen were just absolutely bored during the day. the most exciting thing that happened to them is they all got food poisoning because they didn't control the temperature on their sandwiches. so that was not the best part of the day for them. but other than that, they really didn't have very much to do except direct traffic. yes? >> my question is about the mall. the mall has become especially since the march on washington really a preeminent place, public space, and people have chosen certain memorials as the podium for their marches. but, also, in very recent years it's been changing quite drastically. as you know and you cite in the book, the world war ii memorial is going to divide the lincoln from the washington so that whole marching space will now be off limits. but, also, the park service has had to restrict demonstrations
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in certain areas because the memorials have been roped off as kind of sacred zones. i wonder if you can comment? and now with security measures and the capitol essentially becoming closed off, pennsylvania avenue, there is an article in today's paper about restrictions on lafayette park. i'm particularly concerned about how you see the national mall really having achieved its great place as a public forum but now it seems to be kind of slowly broken down. >> yes. i'm equally concerned about that process. and i'm very concerned about the seeming intransigence of the park service on these issues. there's been repeated requests to consider the historical legacy of marching on washington and the use of the mall as they plan for these new monuments and earlier proposals had clearly stated there were going to be n more monuments.
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that it was time to stop this before the mall got too full. and one of the things that i think is important is to understand the history of the mall in thinking about that. the mall was originally designed to be an open space, though it wasn't designed for the people, it was designed for the military that was supposed to be where they would parade and practice their drills -- it became a park -- it was a swamp and then a park and then only in the 1930's did they clear it. and as soon as they cleared it, you start to see it used for these big events. so people quickly grasped its power when you think about the moment in which marion anderson is prohibited from -- from refuses to sing before a segregated audience at the daughters of the american
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revolution, she -- they turned to lincoln memorial and they're able to have a huge number of people gathered there for a wonderful concert that is both a political statement and a moral statement at the same time. and over time, the march on washington, people are going to use the same tradition, later groups come and use the mall over and over again and they start to see the potential of this space. and political leaders become tolerant of it too. this whole regulation that prohibits the use of capital space is not overturned by the supreme court, it fell in 1972. but in the meantime, even quite surprising figures had allowed marchers to use the west side of the capitol to have their speakers on so that they could use the rest of the expand for the demonstrations.
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so both in practice and in what people clearly wanted to use, the mall quickly was claimed this space. and without preserving that, i mean part of the purpose of the national park service was to preserve historical legacies and, yet, they're assuming not to. they are now going to put a marker where martin luther king gave his i have a dream speech but i'm not sure that's particularly necessary that we see this image over and over again including the fourth graders -- not the worst thing but a token. i would rather make the space clear to have a memorial to him as to have a plaque. >> do you believe with the marches on washington is more of a way for interest groups to advertise and that they have lost its potency to create
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change? >> i think that it really is a different style of creating change. so, yes, you could call the interest groups. of course any groups that can manage to pull people together and do something together have a common interest, a term that sometimes is thrown around as sort of a bad word. i personally think that's part of democracy, that there are going to be people who have common interest and they come together and they want to influence things. and they -- i think they are used sometimes to affirm themselves and to advertise their cause. but that's part of the nature of having a political debate that includes a wide range of people in american politics. if you had -- if the only people that are allowed to speak were like the people at the time of the army were the elected representatives, i think it would narrow the range
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of political debate in the country and so that that would be a loss to the nature of the working of american democracy. that's not to say that i can't, you know, sometimes wonder, you know? i mean the -- i've been working on this book, march on tv in 1993 or something like that with the association of travel agents -- well, no, the travel agents were marching on washington. now maybe i don't take travel agents serious enough and i ought to revise my feeling on them as a representative of a mistreated group. they were having the annual conference. they didn't like some new law regular latering this and that. it's fine with me, i don't mind, that march -- why it showed up on providence tv, i have no idea. i think maybe there was some local angle that i didn't get, but in the normal course of things, that, perhaps would not
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attract that much attention and i'm not particularly concerned about that problem. so i think that yes, that's the way that i look at it. other people -- a waste of money and move on to a different type of political participation. it's not for everyone. >> the biggest march of them all and another scary one for people ahead of time was the million man march. and i wonder if you have comments about that? talk about that? >> yeah. i sort of changed my mind on the million man march to be quite frank. the time i was a bit cynical about it. i -- i thought -- not -- not out of just a sort of intuitive, negative louis farrakhan thought, it's not a very -- he did not give a speech that equaled earlier speeches at the time. but because i was like sort of stuck in this notion of, well, you've got -- if you're going
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have a march, you ought to have a set of demands and it ought to be related to federal policy and let's get real here, what's the point? but when i thought about it and when i've seen how it really seemed to resonate with the people who came how inspired other marchers, how it inspired other marches, i really started to come to have a greater acceptance of this notion that part of the point of marching can be to do a public display of an identity that is not portrayed as people think it should be in american culture. i think there's much to be said that's similar to the promise keepers -- that the promise keepers had this sort of reputation of being this sort of among some people of being a sort of group that met in sports arenas and doing this christianity that really didn't have any legitimacy and showing themselves in public no longer charging a huge admission fee,
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that everyone came gave them a different portrayal. i felt the say way about the million man march. it opened up an organization, the nation of islam that had been closed an it may not, i don't think necessarily changed the nation of islam but it changed a lot of the ways that african-american men felt about each other and the way they were portrayed in the press and how it helped to inspire subsequent marches that seemed to be powerful for their participants. >> the last question suggests something i think it's important. looking at the particular forms of participation, maybe in politics in general and that is that there are perhaps two axis that are present in the analysis -- that is called one is sort of the demand-oriented. this is demand. we have legislative goals and points to our agenda. and the other is the exto sensual. here we are, we exist, the
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people there find out others exist and those who observe see that they exist and i think if you'll buy into those two axis that you can make it something about how we can see that historically. that is you think they're just any given group that's out there would be on one side or the other or is it an historical trip. i haven't thought about this as much as you, but it seems to me we're moving towards the exso ten rble. we are here. and it confirms us and the like. in which you may celebrate and lament. it's politics -- it's disconnected from the truth -- [inaudible] >> yeah, i think -- i'm not
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sure you could comment much more because you had my point so eloquently yourself. i think that is the way that i i think the thing to always appreciate is that there are one of the virtues of our country is to have a range of methods of political expression. we have elected officials who report to us and who we vote for and for whom we influence by in the poll except for in the district of columbia where you have no national representation, as i can see on your license plates every day. but in the other sense that we have that form of political participation, we have the ability to write letters, we have the ability to form group, we have the ability to raise money, and we have the ability now to have virtual marches on washington and that all those methods are available to us and that some of them are about creating bonds of solidarity together. i mean, you know, if i look at
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the pictures that i took when i went to pro choice rallies, part of it is about reunions with my friends from college. and i mean that's a common thing people do. they come from all over the country and they see their friends and they're reminded of their past and their future political lives. and then other people come, you know, and you see others and you're like, wow this, is amazing. everyone tells me these stories whether it's i came to the march on washington, freedom, or this or that march. i came all the way from here and i just ran into this person. i hadn't seen them in years. i mean that's small politics making. but it's big politics when it gets compounded and inspired. but i think also in the terms of -- i wouldn't say it's -- i would have said, and i do say in my epilogue -- yes, it's going more to identity and affirmation and movement building. and ou

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