Historian Taylor Branch has written several books, including a trilogy on Dr. King that begins with “Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963,” which won the Pulitzer Prize and “The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement” released earlier this year. His essay “Remembering the March” was excerpted in USA Today. Branch is obviously interested in the 50th Anniversary of the March On Washington and he joined the Tom Joyner Morning Show to talk about it. Here’s what he had to say.
TJMS: This was 1963 and Birmingham was blowing up. And not just Birmingham but Gadsen and all around that area of Alabama with Bull Connor and all the dogs and the hoses that pretty much set up the March on Washington, huh?
Taylor Branch: A breakthrough in Birmingham when police put dogs and fire hoses on small children was the emotional breaking point for America when people resisted talking about race but those pictures spread demonstrations and concern not only nationwide but worldwide. There were demonstrations in over 700 cities very quickly. It’s what the March was about that momentum and that reaction. TJMS: That’s why President Kennedy and everyone else was so afraid that this March on Washington was going to end really, really badly.
People forget that we were scared of the March on Washington. People were even scared of the first Obama inauguration a few years ago but that was nothing compared to the March on Washington. The thing that puts it most in perspective for me was that major league baseball cancelled two Washington Senators games – not just the day of the March but the next day for fear we’d still be cleaning up from the wreckage if Black people marched in numbers on the nation’s capitol. So we were afraid of it and that’s one reason why the March had such a wonderful image when it came away because people were relieved it was peaceful.
So why didn’t the Ku Klux Klan show up? There wasn’t that much KKK around Washington –