MLK speech was lesson in unfounded fear

August 29, 2010


— I did not stick around to see Glenn Beck’s extravaganza at the Lincoln Memorial, not out of protest but because I had work to do in Philadelphia. But I was more than satisfied by my memories of the earlier event at that site I’d covered for the old Washington Star, when the theme was civil rights and the speech of the day turned out to be the historic “I Have a Dream” oration by Martin Luther King Jr.

It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a lot of tension then at the Star and in the rest of white establishment Washington about that gathering of African-Americans and their sympathizers. I had been on vacation earlier in August at the family cabin in northern Michigan, and normally the Star did not pester me when I was on a break.

But Newby Noyes, our editor, wanted all hands on deck — because no one knew what would happen if the hundreds of thousands who were supposed to arrive by bus and caravan from across the country actually descended on the capital.

No one was more nervous than the Kennedy administration, as the memoirs later published by veterans of the White House and the Justice Department make clear. What sometimes is forgotten in the glow of King’s uplifting words is that this was a protest rally — and protests sometimes get out of hand.

The frustration was great because hopes for civil rights had been raised so high by Kennedy’s campaign rhetoric and by his decision to name his brother Robert as attorney general. The top ranks of the Justice Department were filled with civil rights advocates, but on Capitol Hill, the traditional opponents were slow-walking every bill, with scarcely an audible objection from the White House.

So no one in the press corps knew exactly how the drama would unfold that day or what kind of stories we would be writing by nightfall. I remember making my way from the Star office in Southwest Washington uphill to the Capitol and then down onto the Mall, where the crowds were beginning to assemble.

As their numbers increased, it became clearer and clearer that the mood of the day would be fellowship and the spirit one of brotherhood. Everywhere you looked, and everyone with whom you talked, you could see and hear people celebrating the friendships they had just struck up with their fellow “protesters.”

I filled my notebook with comments from marchers who had journeyed long distances, and I wrote down the reasons they gave me for making the effort. A few had specific political agendas — voicing their distaste for the blockades the legislation had encountered. But most said they had heard about the plans at church or at temple and simply decided they wanted to be part of it. They came to affirm their solidarity and, if you will, their humanity.

What became apparent, as the masses moved slowly along the Reflecting Pool and gathered before the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, was that if this was a mob, it was the most benign mob in history.

Even before a word was spoken — let alone the eloquent words that have echoed down through history — it had become absolutely evident from the people themselves that achieving civil rights would be the way to heal, not damage, the country.

I went back to the Star wondering what it was we had been afraid of. And I’ve remembered this many times since, when people have tried to teach us to fear certain things, such as someone else’s marriage or place of worship.

— David Broder is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. davidbroder@washpost.com


Tom Shewmon 7 years, 9 months ago

Good job of self-censorship, Mr. Broder. It's reflected in the tripe you manage to get published. You're basically what's wrong with modern journalism.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 9 months ago

Too bad he couldn't have satisfied you with some disparaging words about colored folk, Tom.

walkingonwater 7 years, 9 months ago

What is your issue with the article Tom? I liked it. First hand reporting from a reporter saying we feared what we did not understand. What's your beef with that?

rbwaa 7 years, 9 months ago

"...not out of protest but because I had work to do in Philadelphia." -- where is the sarcasm in that?

Maddy Griffin 7 years, 9 months ago

If he can't bad-mouth Obama or convince us all that we are doomed (fear-mongering) he has nothing. Such a sad, twisted man.Don't bother trying to calm him down.He basks in the attention, much like Phred Phelps.

Ralph Reed 7 years, 9 months ago

Should we say, "It takes one to know one, Tom?"

Scott Drummond 7 years, 9 months ago

Minimizing the effectiveness of fear of the unknown is not in the interests of the right wingers. Their power is based on dividing groups of Americans. By preventing large numbers of Americans from understanding that they don't need to fear one another and, in fact, have a common interest in progressive and leftist policies, they can continue to exercise power on behalf of the much smaller group of elites that control wealth and power.

Maddy Griffin 7 years, 9 months ago

Exactly!! Back then, Black folks were the ones to be afraid of.Now it's the Muslims. Fear right wingnuts were to blame both times. How far have we REALLY come since Dr. King's speech?

Flap Doodle 7 years, 9 months ago

The Fear Monger in Chief will be doing his best to stampede the gullible between now and the mid-terms.

Scott Drummond 7 years, 9 months ago

Do you have any "funny" nicknames for george w. bush in light of his alcoholism?

Amy Heeter 7 years, 9 months ago

Tom Shewmon is correct on this one. In order for journalistic integrity to stand the journalist must acknowledge both sides with a fair and even review. The writer can make all kinds of excuses as to why he did not stay in his disclaimer, but he exposed the real reason in the content of the article. Feelings cannot get in the way of true journalism, the intrgrity involved must always be inpartial.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 9 months ago

As I told Tom, too bad he couldn't have satisfied you with some disparaging words about colored folk.

Jimo 7 years, 9 months ago

'Some say the Earth is round. Some say the Earth is flat. Who are we journalists to decide this two-sided controversy? '

Being "fair" and "even" does NOT involve allowing b/s to pass unnoticed.

BTW - I haven't had time to watch hour after hour but has the Fox Entertainment division yet mentioned Ken Mehlman more than once? As of yesterday it was crickets. Haven't heard a peep on Dr. Laura either. (Must not be enough airtime with all the endless "fair" and "even" reporting on Muslim Obama!)

Amy Heeter 7 years, 9 months ago

WoW, is that what I said? No I don't think so. I said a journalist with integrity would tell both sides of the story. Try again.

Jimo 7 years, 9 months ago

A journalist with integrity would have itemized just how Glenn Beck opposes virtually everything MLK stood for. I notice however a distinct avoidance of substantive analysis of Beck (probably because what part I caught on tv yesterday seemed to lack any substantive content).

Amy Heeter 7 years, 9 months ago

Why are you so worried about it then. If you believe anything Dr. King said. Glenn Beck wouldn't bother you.

Jimo 7 years, 9 months ago

The only thing anyone is worried about is your penchant for misinformation.

mom_of_three 7 years, 9 months ago

He just calls glenn beck's rally an extravaganza, and isn't that what it was - he advertised it, and put out promotional materials and plans. He planned it to a T.

Scott Drummond 7 years, 9 months ago

One thing I think most fair-minded folks can agree on is that it was not "profound" and has not "changed the world." Both claims made by Mr. Beck in advance of the speech.


Fred Whitehead Jr. 7 years, 9 months ago

Glen Beck is another of the modern horde of miscreants who take opportunity with the difficult times we see and seek to manufacture some sort of "final solution". I have vidio tapes of Discovery Channel programs about the events that occurred in 1930's Europe. It was a time of economic distress, unemployment and general discontent. Blame was being cast upon social groups that were considered the blame for the economic distress. The government under President Hindenburg was cast as villians and devils (like our current black president and his "regime").

A "Hero" emerged to promise that he had the answer if the people would only go along with his "solutions" and then the country of Germany would be the envy of the whold world. Great rallys were held and heroic speeches were made. Promises were made and the gathered mob cheered and supported the "Great Leader" This leader was mever elected. he was just ascended from common rabble, much like the present day "radio talk show hosts"

The parallels between what I saw in Washington D.C. Friday and the ralleys in Nurmburg, Germany prior to the genesis of the Third Reich are truly frightening, that so many people can be snookered by one "hero" who has all the answers and who has the "final solution" The rise of such fervor for a common rabble rouser has it's roots in recent history, and those who fail to recognize the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 7 years, 9 months ago

No Tom, to those of us familiar with your tirades for the Republican Terrorist Party and its agenda to overthrow the lawfully elected government, I was talking about a radio talk show host who has figured out how to follow the Laimbaugh prototype in shaking down his audiance wih his political fabrications and hopefully compete successfully with the great Puss Bimbo without being seen as another simpering wannabe. Got It???

beatrice 7 years, 9 months ago

Tom, dumping on the ascendency of a community organizer? I thought you were against career politicians and wanted someone of the people in Washington. Make up your mind already.

Ralph Reed 7 years, 9 months ago

@artichokeheart, re: your 0913:

You wrote, "Tom Shewmon is correct on this one. In order for journalistic integrity to stand the journalist must acknowledge both sides with a fair and even review."

Apparently neither of you realize that David Broder is an editorial columnist, just like Cal Thomas, Charles Krauthammer and Leonard Pitts. As such, they don't necessarily have to present both "sides" of a story.

I don't ever see either of you complaining when Cal Thomas doesn't present both sides of a story, so why are you complaining about David Broder? It appears you do this only when a "liberal elitist" or "racist" (words from both of you in other posts) write something with which you disagree. Why is this?

Amy Heeter 7 years, 9 months ago

Always slapping down the good ole racist card. Disagreement does not a racist make.

Ralph Reed 7 years, 9 months ago

Don't try and turn what I said. I used your words. Read it again, "It appears you do this only when a "liberal elitist" or "racist" (words from both of you in other posts) write something with which you disagree."

Take special note of, "... words from both of you in other posts ...".

Fred Whitehead Jr. 7 years, 9 months ago

Hey folks, you need to let up on old Tom. He is out learning about the Nazi rallys at Nurmburg in 1934. He seems to be confused with the methods by which extremist groups who cannot adjust to the black guy who beat out the war hero attempt to gain power by trashing the lawfully elected and established government with their "heros" and rabble rousers. It has happened before and a thoughtful study of history is in line here.

Ralph Reed 7 years, 9 months ago

If Tom changes his rhetoric and the way he writes, I might let up on him. Otherwise, as far as I'm concerned he should follow his plan of a couple of months ago and "just go."

I'm also beginning to wonder if he's not a front man for HWSNBN.

jonas_opines 7 years, 9 months ago

One benefit to always predicting the same thing. Given enough times, and allowing that you forget the many false predictions, then you're eventually going to be right.

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