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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 08/28/13

Guests: Clarence Jones, Charles Ogletree

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 Baltimore. 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 protest. 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 to pressure. 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 him. 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 Birmingham. 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 bail money. 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 that happened. 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. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (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, Rachel. 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 paid. 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 occur. 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 us, sir. 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. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) 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 Assad government. (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 ground. 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 Syria. 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 process? No, he has not. He`s making noise, but he`s not actually doing anything, so far. Watch this space. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (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 against God. (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 his home. 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 himself. Dr. King`s wife is the one who opened that package when it arrived at their home. 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 country. 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. OGLETREE: Right. 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 important. 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 president. 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. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) 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. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) 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 policy." 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. (APPLAUSE) 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. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END