(AFP/Getty Images)

In August 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood before thousands of people in front of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered those historic words, “I Have a Dream.” Almost 50 years later, that iconic speech still resonates. We remember the March on Washington and talk to those who worked alongside Dr. King — including one who helped pen that famous “I Have a Dream” speech — about Dr. King’s legacy and where the civil rights movement stands today.

Guests:
Clayborne Carson, director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University and author of the memoir "Martin's Dream: My Journey and the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr."
Dorothy Cotton, civil rights leader, former education director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and author of "If Your Back's Not Bent: The Role of the Citizenship Education Program in the Civil Rights Movement"; she accompanied Dr. King when he received the Nobel Peace Prize, and also stayed in the motel room next door the day Dr. King was assassinated
Clarence B. Jones, visiting professor at the University of San Francisco, scholar writer in residence at Stanford University's Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, author of "What Would Martin Say?" and former lawyer, political adviser and draft speechwriter for Dr. King; he drafted the opening several paragraphs spoken by Dr. King in his "I Have A Dream" speech

  • thucy

    Excited to hear these guests. Two years ago I caught an opinion piece published by The New York Times by the legal scholar Michelle Alexander. In it, she invoked MLK Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” so passionately and so cogently that I immediately downloaded the original letter and read it. (I subsequently learned that MLK had written the letter on tiny scraps of paper that were then carried out of the jail by King’s lawyers, and reassembled at King’s office by the Rev. Wyatt Walker. How much more dramatic can you get?)

    I’d had no idea how radical the letter was. MLK Jr. is now kind of “toned down” by the mainstream press, but I was shocked by the boldness of MLK’s letter, which was in response to white preachers who meant well but wanted him to scale back. Frankly, reading the letter made me weep, but it also changed how I see MLK, and this country, and radical activism.

    Though they are so different, Professor Alexander’s cogent legal condemnation of the racist “war on drugs” makes her my generation’s MLK Jr. As she tours the country, I pray for her safety, and hope as many people as possible will read her work. Any Google search will turn up her interview on Terry Gross’s show Fresh Air and the pieces she’s published in The New York Times.

  • SG

    Will you comment on the role Bayard Rustin played in shaping the march on Washington? We heard a program on NPR about the important role he had to play behind the scenes because he was gay.

    • thucy

      Susan,
      I heard the same program and was surprised they toned down Rustin’s support of LBJ’s further destruction in Vietnam. There are many reasons MLK was assassinated, while Rustin survived. Part of it has to do with the FBI not doing enough to protect MLK, who was being wiretapped by the FBI. But… why weren’t they protecting him better? Maybe because he didn’t go “insider” like Rustin.
      I’m not judging Rustin for doing what he had to do to survive, he was a great man, but I admire King’s anti-war stance much more than I admire Rustin’s choice.

  • Guest

    I invite the panel to be explicit in connecting the dots for a nation continuing to be torn asunder by the 2nd amendment. I invite the panel to be explicit that in order to practice non-violence we must remove the instruments of violence. I invite the panel to be explicit in reminding us all that MLK met his end at the barrel of a gun. I have a dream too, and it is a world where it is not so easy to kill one another.

    • chrisnfolsom

      I have to say we all share that dream, but its the interpretation/corruption of the 2nd amendment that has created this problem. there is no way that the founding fathers would have advocated machine guns in every home – a musket would kill one person before they were subdued – all firearns of that time were only effective in groups. We need to figure out what to do – we have a terrible mess to clean up.

  • thucy

    Your guests do not address the ongoing violence enacted against the black and minority populations through the drug war, which David Simon calls “a holocaust in slow-motion.”

  • chrisnfolsom

    I recently heard a show on civil rights that credited Bayard Rustin for bringing non-violence into the civil rights movement – not to take anything away from Mr. King, but I wonder how much credit the guests give to Bayard, and any other comments they might have.

    • thucy

      Chris,
      Tell it to the Vietnamese who got napalmed, while Rustin refused to criticize LBJ. Tell it to Gandhi, who came up with the idea of non-violence.
      Rustin was great, but let’s not re-write history.

      • chrisnfolsom

        I am not writing, or making a statement about anything, just asking about what I had heard – there were examples from the show in which MLK had guns in his rooms and his guards had guns and almost shot a western union person and Rustin had been protesting for 15 years before and used peaceful protesting and helped MLK out. What I would like is some comments – I don’t advocate anything here, just looking for information. Every person is complex – I personally don’t believe God acts on individual (whispers in their ears) so I believe that MLK learned from his environment and was influenced and then came up with his own twist on how to do what he did – to all our benefit. But I don’t think it demeans a person or their cause to talk about what helped them to become what they were or are.

        • thucy

          I totally agree with you. And it sure sounds like the guests answered your question; they credited Gandhi, not Rustin.
          And (I think?) Gandhi drew on Emerson?

  • Vijar

    Could you have your guests comment on how much influence Gandhi had on Dr King?

  • thucy

    I’m intrigued by the interest of commenters in Bayard Rustin. It seems reflective of the age of Obama.
    In a way, we’ve all acquiesced to the “necessity” of Obama’s war machine.
    Unlike MLK Jr., with whom LBJ broke when King refused to support the brutal mass murder of over a million Vietnamese, Rustin acquiesced to LBJ’s loyalty test. Thereby, Rustin assured his own survival.
    Rustin had his reasons – he wanted economic justice, and LBJ made unprecedented moves toward that.

    But which man was right? In the age of Obama, liberals pardon the current war machine because they believe Obama will come through on economic justice. But whether he wants to or not, he simply can’t, because he’s owned by his wealthy benefactors and because he lacks LBJ’s fierceness and skill.

    • chrisnfolsom

      As I mentioned Rustin is on our minds as there was an hour long talk about him (rebroadcasted from 2011) which credited him with organizing The March and bringing Ghandi and his teaching into the civil rights – among many other impressive activities. I did preface my comment, and just wanted some more information from the MLK people as unless everything said was a fabrication Rustin’s story had a profound affect on the MLK story and civil rights on general.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor