The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 08/28/13
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thanks to you at home as well for staying with
us for the next hour.
This is the Northwood Theater in Baltimore, Maryland. It opened in
1950, but it was not until 13 years later that a movie was shown at this
theater, before an audience that included both black people and white
people. The Northwood Theater had been a whites-only movie theater in
Incidentally, the first movie they did show to an integrated audience
in 1963, it was this movie “In Search of the Castaways”, which was a Disney
movie and it was terrible. But still.
There had been protests in Baltimore to try to make that theater admit
black patrons as early as 1955. It opened in 1950, it was whites-only.
This was 1955, big interracial groups of students going down to that
theater, lining up, trying to get admission into the theater.
But those early protests never worked. After years of the
intermittent protests and the theater rebuffing all of them and staying
defiantly whites-only in Baltimore, in February 1963, local students who
are mostly from Morgan State College, which is nearby black college, but
also from Loyola and from Johns Hopkins, from other mostly white schools in
the area, they decided they were going to stop taking no for answer and
they were going to get this thing done.
Now, by this point, other businesses in the downtown, including drug
stores, even some other theaters, they were already getting desegregated.
But the Northwood Theater was a holdout. No progress has been made there.
And so, the students and the civil rights activists ramped up their
protests at that theater dramatically, that February. They ramped up into
a confrontation that looked like this.
On the left there, the white guy with the cigar is obviously from the
theater, he is standing in the door of the theater, telling this orderly
cue of would-be black patrons – no, you`re not getting in. This is from
“The Baltimore Sun” at the time.
The protesters kept up their demand to be let in, day after day. The
theater kept saying no. The police started arresting people. At first by
the dozens and ultimately by the hundreds as these protests at the
Northwood Theater stretched on, increasing in size for a week.
“The Baltimore Sun” said the police started to run out of vehicles to
transport those who were being arrested.
To get an idea of how many people were being arrested, look at this
picture from the city jail in Baltimore. This is obviously the women`s
quarters of the city jail, but this is in the midst of those protests, that
is how many people were getting arrested.
The police and the city government, and the people who owned the
theater, they met at Baltimore City Hall, to trying to figure out what to
do. Integrated groups of students and young people protested outside city
hall. They picketed. There was black students, and white students, and
all sorts of different religious congregations from across the city,
Catholic and Protestant and Jewish.
What had been a long time civil rights goal in the city of Baltimore
was now becoming a huge pain in the butt for the city of Baltimore. The
students were filling up the jail. Here you see some of the people who are
jailed, some of the students studying in jail. This photo was circulated
widely at the time.
Eventually, after increasing publicity and increasing annoyance and
protracted negotiations, the city was persuaded to drop the high bail that
had been set for all of those demonstrators who were arrested. And the
demonstrators were let out. And that day that they were let out, the
Northwood Theater announced that it would desegregate so everybody could
sit together on February 22nd, 1963 and watch that terrible Disney movie
about the castaways.
At around the same time in the state of Georgia, activists from the
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, some young activists from the
civil rights movement, turned up in Sumpter County, Georgia, in the city
called Americus, Georgia. They turned up there in February 1963 and they
started organizing desegregation efforts there in Georgia.
Now, the white backlash, the backlash of the powers that be in
Americus, Georgia, was such a radical backlash that their response to
nonviolent direct action protests in their city, protests like were
happening all over the South, their response at Americus, was to arrest
protest leaders and charge them with sedition. With a Georgia state law
against seditious conspiracy, essentially with plotting an insurrection to
overthrow the government. And that was a capital offense, a death penalty
offense, for organizing nonviolent protests.
They charged young activists with capital crimes for which they would
be hanged if they were convicted in Americus, Georgia. The first four
civil rights workers were arrested that summer. The gentleman you can see
here in some of this footage in the black glasses, he`s also an activist.
He turned up at the courthouse initially to support the four civil rights
workers who had been charged with the hanging offense for organizing
Georgia responded by also then arresting him and charging him with the
same thing. So, ultimately, there were five of them charged with
potentially death penalty offenses for organizing protests. And,
ultimately, it was that fall. A three judge panel that ruled that that
Georgia sedition law was unconstitutional and that court ordered that all
five activists be released, as well as a 14-year-old girl who had been held
in solitary confinement for months by the same city, in the same jail.
That was early 1963. In April 1963, Coretta Scott King had just given
birth to fourth child, to Bernice. Bernice was just days old when her
father, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested on Good Friday in
Birmingham, Alabama, that April. Now, that arrest is mostly remembered
because while he was in jail in Birmingham, a group of mostly white clergy
in Alabama spoke out and published an ad in local newspaper calling on Dr.
Martin Luther king to stop the protests, to work inside the system and stop
organizing these demonstrations, to stop being the outside agitator.
Dr. King responded with his famous letter from the Birmingham jail
which he wrote longhand in the margins of the newspaper in which he was
able to read the ad and read the stories about his fellow ministers
criticizing his tactics. But his arrest was one component of a big,
coordinated, confrontational activist plan for Birmingham that year.
Birmingham was seen as being among the most impossible places for
progress. It was the most stubborn, the most violent, the most rigidly
opposed to desegregation. And so, the plan was to push there in one of the
worst places in the country and see what happened. See how they responded
And after what they thought was a slow start of sit-ins and protests
in the first eight days, a total of 150 people had been arrested and taken
to jail, that sounds like a lot, but for the time it was disappointingly
low. After that, what they perceived to be a slow start in Birmingham, on
April 12th, Dr. King was arrested himself, and 50 others were arrested with
Dr. King was released by April 20th, and by May 2nd, Birmingham
activists applied for a parade permit, for big demonstration downtown. The
Birmingham city government said no.
But when May 2nd dawned, something happened in that city that day, it
seems like the organizers did not expect, and that nobody still can quite
explain, which is that not only hundreds and thousands of people turn out
to demonstrate in Birmingham that day, permit or not. But thousands of the
people who turned out that day were kids, children as young as 12, 10, 8
were out on the streets in huge numbers.
And the police chief in Birmingham at that time, you will remember
him, Bull Connor, you`ll remember that name, when we talk about as a nation
those scarring images of fire hoses and dogs being turned on peaceful
protesters in the civil rights movement, it is not always remembered when
we talk about those images to each other. It`s not always remembered that
the most horrifying images of fire hoses and dogs being turned against
peaceful protesters were from the time that fire hoses and dogs were turned
on kids, children who are protesting by the thousands that day in
They not only hit kids with fire hoses. This famous image of Walter
Gadson being bitten by a police dog, one of the most famous images in the
civil rights movement, he was a high school kid. He was one of the older
kids at that protest.
And they did not just unleash that violence on those kids. They
arrested them. They put hundreds and hundreds of children in jail in
Birmingham, they used school buses to pick up kids from the demonstration
that – they had hit them with fire hoses and dogs at the demonstration and
then arrested them. They hauled those kids into the jail.
They filled the jail cells, dozens of kids all crammed into individual
adult cells. They put hundreds of kids into pens – children – and they
held them in jail. And they set bail for them.
Now, of course, the way the bail works, is that it`s something that
you pay to the jail. You pay bail to whatever entity is holding you, to
get yourself out of jail. But it`s kind of a promise, right? You`re
giving them money as a way of saying, thank you for letting me out of jail
right now, I will give you this money to hold because it`s a promise. You
hold this money, and that money stands as my promise that I will come back
to stand trial. If I don`t come back, at least you got the money. It`s
like a guarantee you`ll come back, right?
You have to raise bail money, if you`re planning to show up for your
trial, you expect you should be able to get that bail money back. That`s
the way bail works.
Well, the singer Harry Belafonte was very close to a lot of national
civil rights leaders at the time, including Martin Luther King, and his
family. And in Harry Belafonte`s autobiography, he writes about these
protests and how there was this national shock and horror at seeing these
images, at how these protesters were brutalized in Birmingham.
But there was also the practical nuts and bolts, dollars and cents
matter of raising the bail money – raising the bail money to get the
protesters out of jail. Harry Belafonte raised $50,000 himself. The
unions actually stepped up and kicked in a lot of money. The AFL-CIO, the
United Steelworkers, a black store workers union in New York, they sent
tens of thousands of dollars down to Birmingham, to the jail to serve as
With all those hundreds of children in jail, when they totaled up the
bill for bail, it was staggering. It was something like $160,000 they need
to raise to bail out the children. That is in 1963, that is not adjusted
for inflation. Do you realize how much money that was at that time?
And you know who coughed up money in a really big way? Nelson
Rockefeller. Nelson Rockefeller, not only governor of New York at the
time, but also a Rockefeller, and he asked Dr. King`s private attorney to
meet him at a Chase Manhattan Bank in New York City, on the corner of 47th
Street and 6th Avenue, about three blocks from here.
They met there on a Saturday morning. Nelson Rockefeller, met Dr.
King`s attorney at the bank vault. The guards opened up the vault,
Governor Rockefeller walked into the vault and came out with two giant
stacks of plastic wrapped cash and said, “I hope this is enough.” It was
$100,000 in crisp new bills.
They kept it quite at the time. But remember, this was for bail
money. So, this was not a gift, this was not a donation. The governor was
giving this as bail money for the kids and he was expecting it back.
And so, before he let Dr. King`s friend and speechwriter and personal
attorney leave with the giant stacks of plastic wrapped cash that day, he
had him sign a promissory note, and that made it an official loan. “I have
loaned you $100,000 in cash, by signing below, you indicate that you will
pay it back to me.”
Dr. King`s attorney signed it and then left with a big suitcase full
of cash to get the kids out of prison.
And then late that summer, when it came time to write a big speech for
Dr. King, that man who signed the promissory note for the $100,000 to get
the elementary school kid prisoners out of prison released to their parents
so they could go back to school, that man who you see over Dr. King`s right
shoulder, suggested that that promissory note experience he had at that
bank vault on that Saturday morning in New York city with the governor
might make a metaphor for a big speech.
And on August 28th, 1963 you can when that speech was delivered. The
civil rights leader said the founders of our nation in writing our nation`s
founding documents were, quote, “signing a promissory note to which every
American was to fall heir, a promise that all men would be guaranteed the
unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
He said, it is obvious today that America has defaulted on this
promissory note in so far as her citizens of colors are concerned. He said
that although black Americans had been given a bad check, it had come back
marked “insufficient funds”, he had refused to believe that there are
insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity in this nation. He
said, “We have come to cash this check.”
We think of that speech and that march as a singular event. And there
is in fact nothing like it in our history. But it is less of a pillar and
more like a peak. It is a summit that was reached by a lot of work leading
up to it, and a lot of work that continue thereafter. It was a moment in
an ongoing movement that was well underway and not nearly over by the time
And that march, and that speech like the campaign to desegregate the
Northwood Theater in Baltimore and those protests with the terrifying
consequences in America`s Georgia, that march was a tactic dreamed up in
real-time by real imperfect people working together as a body in motion
making incremental decisions about what to do next, about what might work.
When we come back, we will be joined by the man who signed that promissory
note in that bank vault that day – Dr. Martin Luther King`s friend, and
speechwriter and personal attorney.
We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS ICON: When we allow freedom to
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 are
free at last.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Joining us now is a man who helped right that speech. He was
a personal attorney and friend and speechwriter for Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr. He worked with him closely until his death. He`s now scholar and
residents of Sanford University`s Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and
Education Institute. He also teaches at the University of San Francisco.
Mr. Clarence Jones, thank you so much for joining us tonight, sir.
It`s really an honor to have you here.
CLARENCE JONES, MLK`S PERSONAL COUNSEL & ADVISOR: Thank you so much,
MADDOW: With all – sorry, go ahead, sir.
JONES: No, I just wanted to say, you got it right, except that in
signing the promissory note, it was a demand promissory, which meant the
promissory note is payable on a day certain. Demand promissory note is
payable any time the creditor wants to be paid.
When I left the bank, I was so surprised by this, that I called Harry
Belafonte and said, Harry, you didn`t tell me I`d have to sign a demand
promissory note. He said, well, better you than me. I said, but you have
more money than I do.
But, in any event it was done, and we were appreciative of it, I took
the money to Birmingham, and the following, that was on a Saturday, the
following Tuesday, there was a messenger that came to my office with an
envelope marked personal and confidential, and the envelope and I open the
envelope and there was the promissory note I had signed and it turned it
over and I said, paid in full. Obviously I didn`t pay it, so it had been
That was a profound experience. First of all, a very great gesture on
the part of the Rockefeller family. And just to make it clear, I hear
references about my contribution to Dr. King`s speech.
Dr. King wrote most of his speeches. I was very honored together with
the very dear, beloved friend of mine and a major adviser to him by the
name of Stanley David Levison, periodically to provide, you know, suggested
material, in connection with the speech that he gave on the march on
Washington, I simply had provided him with a summary of ideas and summary
of language that he had previously discussed.
So, it wasn`t as if I was providing him with some creative ideas that
were solely mine. I was more like a secretary who was summarizing and
putting in the form that could be used for the speech, the opening
paragraphs, little did I know, until I was sitting listening to him – I
was standing some 50 feet behind him, when I was listening very carefully,
I said, oh, my God, I guess he decided to use those opening paragraphs.
And to those paragraphs, which constituted the first seven paragraphs.
To those opening paragraphs, he then seamlessly added his own additional
paragraphs, and it was when he was speaking his own additional paragraphs
that he was interrupted from the written speech that he had prepared. And
he was interrupted by Mahalia Jackson who shouted to him, “Tell him about
the dream, Martin. Tell him about the dream.”
Most people don`t know that the speech which is so frequently
celebrated over the years, the “I Have a Dream” speech, that from the time
Mahalia Jackson interrupted him, until the end of the speech, the entire
balance of the speech was spontaneous and extemporaneous. It was not the
speech that he had written and prepared in longhand, but for the initial
seven paragraphs that I suggested and his own paragraphs he added.
It was an amazing circumstance.
MADDOW: Professor –
JONES: And today, for example, it was very difficult for me to be
there. And a lot of emotions, I said to my dear friend ambassador, Andy
Young, we put our arms around one another. I said, Andy, I started to cry
last night. He said, yes, so did I.
And I thought that oh, my God, I was 32 years of age, Dr. King was 34.
And I thought of so, so many people that I knew personally who were not
there. I`m not just talking about A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin,
and Cleveland Robinson, people you see in the pictures, and some of the
labor leaders and Walter Reuther.
But I`m thinking about people who were decisive in the civil rights
movement, who made – who were part of that whole tapestry. And we don`t
have the time in this program for me to call the role, but – an example
like Fanny Lou Hamer in Greenwood, Mississippi, James Orange, an activist
in Birmingham, Alabama. Jose Williams. James beville (ph), who worked –
all of this – I thought of those people, I thought of Ella Baker.
And so when I thought of them, I began to cry. I began to cry,
because I knew that there contribution had changed America. By the way, I
said this directly to the president of the United States. I reminded him
yesterday when I had the honor to see him in the reception, even when he
was out in California. I – and you know, he knows this, that when he was
elected, for example, and there were several people at a faculty home
celebrating the election of Barack Obama. And people in the room started
to cry, and someone said to me, Professor Jones, did you think you live
long enough to see an African-American elected president? I said no.
And they started asking me another question, but I said, excuse me, my
tears are not for the election of Barack Obama`s president. My tears are
for all of those persons that I personally knew, personally knew – I
called them wintertime soldiers, who made his election possible.
And the president today and even earlier, he reflected that in the
very poignant and very moving speech. I thought he gave an exceptionally
good speech today. It was balanced, it was right on the money, and near
the end, I could hear his moving over to become like a Baptist preacher, I
knew he had more sense than to completely go there.
But it was a beautiful speech. It was balanced. And as some of your
guests have said, I heard on – I don`t know whether it was your show but
on the Chris Hayes show, is that we`re realists. The dream substantially
has been realized.
John Lewis said, anybody would have to be blind, deaf and not
recognizing in 50 years, there are no signs saying colored and white over
this country. There are signs, fortunately, Negro segregation are gone.
So, there are cracks in the dream. There are obvious cracks in the
dream. Most of those cracks have to do with the economic opportunity.
The president is aware of that, those of us who work so tirelessly
with Dr. King are aware of that and – but it would be a mistake. It would
be it would dishonor the tireless work of those people I said who are no
longer with us, and certainly dishonor the dream of Dr. King, is to say not
much has happened.
The dream hasn`t changed much. The dream has substantially changed
many things. The speech that Dr. King gave was a summons, was a call to
the conscience of America to be the best that we can do, particularly
following the three or four months of previous street demonstrations that
I mean, between April 1963 and august 28th, 1963, there are more than
1200 demonstrations that occurred in 36 states, precipitated by the – by
the – you know, the demonstrations in Birmingham, or by the brutal
reaction, the conscience of America was shocked and that Dr. King knew
this. So when he was speaking about the dream, he was really calling
attention to America to see the moral, the immorality of the contradiction
between the way in which 12 percent of the population is treated, people of
color, and the precepts and principles enshrined in our Declaration of
Independence. That`s what the speech was.
When he said the dream, of course, if you look at it from a syntax
standpoint, he wasn`t talking about then August 28th, he said I dream.
He`s using the future tense. I dream that one day my four children –
future tense – will – that reflected his profound, prophetic confidence
in the American people, recognizing that the goodness in the American
people would not sustain the continuation of racial segregation.
MADDOW: Professor Clarence Jones, who was Dr. Martin Luther King
Jr.`s attorney and adviser. As I should mention that you appear in the new
documentary the march, which is airing on PBS stations in the country.
Professor Jones, it is real honor to have you here tonight to share
with us what this meant for you today. Thank you so much for being with
JONES: Thank you so much.
MADDOW: Thank you.
JONES: Thank you.
MADDOW: Much more ahead about this huge national ceremony and about,
of course, the potential for military action in Syria, which is the other
story going on in the midst of this commemoration today which is itself a
huge, huge deal.
It`s all ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Part of the thing about being president is that some days,
sure, you get to take some time off, like everybody else. You get a few
days vacation, and while you`re taking those few days, everybody on the
other side of the aisle loses their mind and screams about you taking those
days off like it`s something terrible.
But then when you go back to work, sometimes your workdays are just
nuts. Some days you have to go straight from the steps of the Lincoln
Memorial, where you have to give the speech honoring the greatest modern
American speech in history, given from that exact spot 50 years ago to the
minute. You have to go straight from that not-at-all intimidating, no
pressure situation into a long interview, where you get hammered with
questions about the military strike that you are planning in the Middle
East – all in one afternoon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Syria, how close are you to authorizing a
military strike? And can you assure the American people that by doing so,
given Iraq and Afghanistan, that the United States will not get bogged down
in yet another war halfway around the world?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, first of all, I
have not made a decision, I have gotten options from our military, had
extensive discussions with the national security team.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The president telling “PBS NewsHour” tonight that he has not
made a decision about launching a military strike on Syria, although he did
say that his administration has concluded that chemical weapons were used
in Syria, and he says that the rebel forces there could not have been
responsible for the chemical weapons use, he says it has to have been the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We do not believe that given the delivery systems using
rockets that the opposition could have carried out these attacks. We have
concluded that the Syrian government, in fact, carried these out. And if
that`s so, there need to be international consequences.
So, we`re consulting with our allies. We`re consulting with the
international community. And, you know, I have no interest in any kind of
open ended conflict in Syria. But we do have to make sure that when
countries break, international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that
could threaten us, they are held accountable.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But, Mr. President, with all due respect, what
does it accomplish? I mean, the signals the American people are getting,
this would be a limited strike of a limited duration, if it`s not going to
do that much harm to the Assad regime, what have you accomplished? What`s
– what`s changed?
OBAMA: Again, I have not made a decision, but I think it`s important
that in, in fact we make a choice to have repercussions for the use of
chemical weapons, then the Assad regime, which is involved in a civil war,
trying to protect itself, will have received a pretty strong signal that,
in fact, it better not do it again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Pretty strong signal. Well, today, Britain brought a
resolution to the U.N. Security Council that would authorize the use of
military force against Syria. Russia and China are on the U.N. Security
Council and they are still balking in that proposal.
In fact, even at home in Britain the British proposal to hit Syria is
not going anywhere yet. The British Prime Minister David Cameron had hoped
to get his own parliament to vote to authorize the use of force by
tomorrow. But today, the Labour party pushed back really hard and said
they want to wait to hear from the U.N. weapons inspectors before they make
any decision about moving forward.
Those weapons inspectors are still on the ground doing their work in
Syria, investigating whether chemical weapons allegations there are true,
are based in fact. The U.N. secretary-general said that the inspectors
will need to be there a couple more days to finish their work on the
If China and Russia are ever going to come on board to authorize any
sort of unified international condemnation of what Syria appears to have
done, there`s no chance they will do that before the inspectors have made
their report and submitted their proof.
Here at home, we learned late today, the White House is planning on
briefing some members of Congress on the situation. The leadership in
Congress, and the top members of the committees that handle security
issues, the White House is going to brief them reportedly as to whether
congress should actually cut short its own vacation and come back to
Washington en mass to debate the possibility that we would use force in
So far there`s been no announcement of any kind about that. But
nearly 100 members of Congress have signed on to the letter we reported on
on last night`s show, saying they stand ready and willing to come back to
play the role the Constitution says Congress is supposed to play in making
decisions about war. They say they stand ready to share with the president
in the decision making burden about what to do next in Syria.
For his heart, Republican House Speaker John Boehner sent a letter to
the president tonight asking him lots of questions about Syria, and talking
about what an important role Congress should play in this process, but has
John Boehner called Congress back into session to play a role in this
No, he has not. He`s making noise, but he`s not actually doing
anything, so far.
Watch this space.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. GEORGE SHATHERS (D), FLORIDA: We read about it as a foreign
threat today, we don`t read very much about communism as a threat to our
internal security any more. What is your view on the seriousness of the
common situation here at home?
J. EDGAR HOOVER, FBI DIRECTOR: I think it`s the most critical problem
we have to face up to on internal security. The communist party of the
United States is an arm of the international conspiracy against freedom and
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: A conspiracy against God. You know who hated the march on
Washington in august 1963? The FBI. J. Edgar Hoover head of the FBI for
decades already at that point, J. Edgar Hoover in many ways hated the civil
rights movement, and he hated Dr. Martin Luther King in particular. He was
convinced that the whole movement, and Dr. King in particular, were a
front, a communist front being manipulated by Russia a communist overthrow
of the United States of America.
David Corn at “Mother Jones” magazine published a reminder that two
days after the march on Washington, two days after the I have a dream
speech, the FBI circulated a memo summing up their reaction to the event
and how they plan to respond to it. Tim Weiner turned this up for his FBI
story called “Enemies”.
The FBI memo two days after the speech said, in the light of King`s
powerful demagogic speech, we must mark him now, if we have not done so
before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation, from the
standpoint of communism, the Negro and national security.
That memo, the most dangerous Negro memo, was circulated all over
Washington, the Capitol Hill to the White House. Official Washington`s
view of Martin Luther King, especially after the “I Have a Dream” speech,
was a communistic threat to this nation.
The march was in late august, that FBI memo was two days after the
march, by October of that year, Bobby Kennedy, the attorney general had
personally authorized two J. Edgar Hoover FBI requests for unlimited
bugging and wiretapping of Dr. King. Eight wiretaps, 16 bugs, his phones,
his hotel rooms, his bedrooms, and they used the sound that they collected,
they used the information they collected in those wiretaps to try to
destroy Dr. King both professionally and personally.
When he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, J. Edgar Hoover personally
convened a press conference in his office in which he personally called
Martin Luther King a notorious liar. Hoover`s intelligence chief put
together a series of tapes that he said were recorded in Dr. King`s
bedrooms and hotel rooms, the FBI intelligence chief wrote a letter that he
put together with those tapes and he sent it in a package to Dr. King at
The letter said, “King, look into your heart, there`s only one way out
for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal, fraudulent self
is bared to the nation.”
Your FBI at work. That`s what the FBI sent to King`s house with a
package of tapes they said were made from the bugs they put in his
bedrooms, a letter threatening him and essentially telling him to kill
Dr. King`s wife is the one who opened that package when it arrived at
When we commemorate the civil rights movement, we are not just
remembering a movement and its tactics and the history of how they fought.
You can`t commemorate it truly without being honest about what it was they
were fighting against. The heroism of the civil rights movement has echoes
in heroic activism today. Those heroes of the movement would not have had
to be heroic, if there hadn`t been a world or raid against them, a very
powerful world including at times all of the powers that be in our country.
It is inspiring now to see echoes of civil rights heroism in our
country today. It is unsettling to see echoes in our country today of what
they fought against.
Joining us now is Charles Ogletree. He`s a Harvard Law School
professor and the director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for
Race and Justice.
Mr. Ogletree, thank you very much for being with us tonight.
CHARLES OGLETREE, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Happy to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Why was Dr. King perceived as a threat, such a dangerous
threat to national security, particularly after that speech?
OGLETREE: A lot of this was in J. Edgar Hoover`s mind. He did it not
just with King, with Malcolm X. He did the same thing with Harry Belafonte
who was very supportive, called him a communist. He was a threat to the
And what made it even worse, if you think about it, Bobby Kennedy
played a role as the attorney general, looking into these cases, talking
about indicting people for different acts. They did nothing wrong,
nonviolence, very peaceful, and yet they were threats to America according
to J. Edgar Hoover.
MADDOW: When you look at the kinds of fights that are happening now
on civil rights issues, narrowly defined. Like for example, this fight is
over voting rights in North Carolina and in Texas, obviously, there is
Attorney General Eric Holder weighing in. A lot of people are hoping and
inspecting that he might also weigh in in North Carolina. That`s happening
at the official level.
But how much do you feel like the unofficial response, the sort of
movement response, the activist response, even the political response is in
inheritance from that civil rights movement, do we reinvent ourselves every
time we fight these guys?
OGLETREE: It`s different, I`ve never seen an attorney general as
great as Eric Holder. Eric has done a great job. He`s going after Arizona
a couple years ago. He`s going after Texas. He`s going to go after North
Carolina, I have no doubt about that somebody who has that integrity, says
the government is here to protect people, not to go after people. And he`s
been talking about reducing sentences. He was talking about health as
supposed to punishment.
He is a person from my point of view who Obama made a wise choice,
playing the first black American to be the attorney general. And I think
that means he`s going to be changing the whole dialogue, I hope whoever
follows him, he`s there in the second term. I hope whoever follow him will
have the same sense that I am the government lawyer, I`m going to decide
what the law`s going to be, I`m going to be the enforcer, I`m going to
convict people who are committing crimes, but I`m also going to be somebody
who`s responsible for being concerned about ethical and reasonable
treatment. I think that`s exactly what Eric Holder has been doing.
MADDOW: In the president`s speech today, he talked a lot about what
became possible in this country because people marched.
MADDOW: And there`s always an interesting dialect between inside and
outside tactics. About between powerful and calling on the powers that be.
How do you feel like, with the first black president, first black attorney
general, with the internal pro-civil rights strategies that are being
pursued, how did they interact with outside pressure?
OGLETREE: I think it`s good, I think they are in a sense what King
dreamed about. The idea of being a black president, the idea of the
attorney general who concerned about justice and fairness. That`s very
And yet, you think about it, King was a minister, not a politician,
didn`t run for office, not a mayor. But he had these conversations with
Kennedy, he had conversations with LBJ, and because of that the moral force
of his command about what should be right, about ending discrimination,
creating opportunities, ending the opportunity for people to not vote – I
mean, all those were part of what king was able to do. And I think that
made Johnson a better president.
And we don`t know how great he was, I think he`s a terrific president.
Fifty years from now, we`ll say wow! With `64 Civil Rights Act, `65 Voting
Rights Act, `68 Public Accommodations Act, everything he did, Fair Housing
Act, all those things – first black Supreme Court justice appointed,
Thurgood Marshall in `67. That`s – Lyndon Baines Johnson, that`s because
the pressure from outside from Martin Luther King made a big difference. I
think that`s why King was there when Thurgood Marshall was sworn in.
And I think both Johnson and Kennedy are people who learned from the
movement, instead of running away from it, Johnson embraced it, saying,
make me do what I have to do.
MADDOW: He was not on a trajectory to do those things anyway, but
recognized that he could become one with that movement.
OGLETREE: What`s smart about it, he said look, by doing this, the
Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, Thurgood Marshall, the Supreme
Court, we the Democrats are probably lost to the South, he was right about
that. It was a big reaction to that. It made America a better place.
Those opportunities would never have existed if not have been for
Lyndon Baines Johnson, and the pressure of Martin Luther King, Jr.
MADDOW: Professor Ogletree, you taught both Michelle and Barack Obama
at Harvard Law School. I know you`re still close to the first family, and
both of them, you`re in frequent communication with the president. I don`t
want you to tell tales on your friend.
But do you have any insight into why he has seen it to be so important
to foreground Martin Luther King so often? He`s talked about him dozens of
times. He`s got the bust of King right next to the bust of Lincoln looking
down on all discussions in the Oval Office. Do you have any insight into
why that`s so important to him?
OGLETREE: It`s very important. You think about King – you think
about Lincoln, he gave his announcement to run for president in
Springfield, Illinois, the same place Lincoln did. He has that bust of
Lincoln there, he`s cited Lincoln in many of his speeches since he`s been
And I think he`s looking at men that are sacrificing whatever they
have to do to make the country better. The reality is, both of them were
victims of assassinations, and luckily President Obama has been successful
and not faced it the last two terms. But he`s trying to say, I`m trying to
be not better than but as good as these individuals who took it upon
themselves to change our views about race. And he`s been able to do that.
MADDOW: Charles Ogletree, Harvard Law School professor, director of
the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice – I was really
hoping that I could get you here to talk tonight. Thank you so much for –
OGLETREE: I`m glad to be here.
MADDOW: Appreciate it. Thank you.
OGLETREE: My pleasure.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Only one person spoke both at the march on Washington in 1963
and again today at its 50th anniversary. And the story of that man`s role
in the first march will blow your mind. This is a man that did not show up
in Washington 50 years ago to make nice. That largely untold story and
some amazing tape about what happened is next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: This is Patrick J. O`Boyle, born in Scranton, Pennsylvania,
to Irish immigrants, son of a steel worker. He became a Catholic priest in
1921. By 1947, he was the Catholic archbishop of Washington.
When Harry Truman was inaugurated president in 1949, the new
archbishop, Patrick O`Boyle, gave the benediction.
In 1963, when the largest ever demonstration took place in Washington,
it was Archbishop O`Boyle who gave the in invocation for the march. And as
the long-time archbishop of the Southern city of Washington, D.C., Bishop
O`Boyle was thought of as a progressive. He`d been a key player in
desegregating Catholic facilities and schools in D.C., and, of course, it
was an honor to lead the prayer at this huge Washington event. And he did
do it. But he set conditions.
A number of people scheduled to give speeches the day provided
advanced texts to the press on what they planned to say. That`s, for
example, is how we know that Dr. King didn`t plan the “I Have a Dream”
portion of his speech ahead of time. He had written something else. He
demonstrated a totally different speech in his planned remarks. That`s how
we know those comments were extemporaneous.
But the condition that Archbishop O`Boyle set on his participation of
the events that day had to do with the advance text of the speech that had
not been given out by Dr. King, but had been given by another speaker that
day, by the youngest person scheduled to give a speech at the march that
day. According to advanced copies of that youngest speaker`s speech
distributed the night before the event, he was due to say that day, “We
will not wait for the president, the Justice Department, nor the Congress,
but we will take matters into our own hands and create a source of power
outside any national structure that could and would assure us a victory.”
His speech said, “We will march through the South, through the heart
of Dixie, the way Sherman did. We shall pursue our own scorched earth
Of course, the way Sherman marched through there was to burn down
every splinter of it, right? But the archbishop said he would not appear
at a march at which those words would be spoken. So, the march organizers
weighed in, including Dr. King. They prevailed upon the younger speaker`s
speech that day, and the youngest speaker agreed. Those parts did not stay
in the speech. But that young man did still give the speech that day, and
even the softened version of his remarks was still the sharpest and
angriest of all the speeches delivered on that landmark day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN LEWIS, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: If we do not get meaningful
legislation out of this Congress, the time will come when we will not
confine our march into Washington. We`ll march through the South, through
the streets of Jackson, through the streets of Danville, through the
streets of Cambridge, through the streets of Birmingham.
Because we will march with the spirit of love and with the spirit of
dignity that we have shown here today. By the forces of our demands, our
determination, and our numbers, we shall splinter the segregated South into
a thousand pieces and put them into the image of God and democracy. We
must say wake up, America! Wake up, for we cannot stop and we will not and
cannot be patient.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: At 23 years old, that young man was the youngest person to
address that young, astonishingly large crowd in August 1963.
And now today, 50 years later, that fiery young speaker who so
antagonized the archbishop, today, he is the only speaker from that day in
Washington who is still with us. He is the only living speaker. And now,
today, as Congressman John Lewis, he spoke there again at the Lincoln
Memorial just before the three presidents who were also in Washington today
to mark this anniversary.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEWIS: When I look out over this diverse crowd and survey the guests
on this platform, I seemed to realize what Otis Redding is saying about,
and what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached about, this moment has been
a long time coming but a change has come.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.”
Thanks for being with us tonight. Have a great night.
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