NPR : Tell Me More

Behind March On Washington's 'Sunny Reputation,' A Deep Fear

Play associated audio

The 1963 March on Washington didn't happen in a vacuum. Many racial demonstrations before that year — from the Freedom Rides to lunch counter sit-ins — had been met with horrific violence.

So when an estimated 250,000 descended on the nation's capital, "Washington was terrified," Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Taylor Branch tells Tell Me More host Michel Martin.


Interview Highlights

Anxiety in the nation's capital

"One of the reasons the March on Washington has such a sunny reputation in history is because there was such a sharp contrast — people were so relieved compared with what they expected. Official Washington was terrified of this march. They tried to stop it. They canceled liquor sales for the first time since Prohibition. They canceled elective surgery in all the hospitals, they stockpiled plasma. ... Life magazine said the capital had the worst case of pre-invasion jitters since before the first Battle of Bull Run before the Civil War."

Don't mention the march

"A lot of people were reluctant to share their true feelings about it. They knew it went deep, but it was a risk to talk about it. It was a period in time when people got sweaty palms if they were in any mixed room. Not just because they were afraid of the police or of the Klan, but because everybody's parents were involved in businesses and you never knew. ... People were hiding and crouched in a lot of psychological corners."

Where Branch was during the march

"I was at football camp in South Georgia. I was a high school student. And I had just resolved to myself that when I got really secure and old, maybe 30, that I might stick my toe in this scary thing called race relations that had plagued my whole formative years in segregationist Atlanta. I wanted to get involved and then I turn around and see little 6-year-old girls marching into dogs and fire hoses. It just stunned me. I said 'They're not waiting until they're 30 years old.' "

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Opulent And Apolitical: The Art Of The Met's Islamic Galleries

Navina Haidar, an Islamic art curator at the Met, says she isn't interested in ideology: "The only place where we allow ourselves any passion is in the artistic joy ... of something that's beautiful."
NPR

How New Jersey Tamed The Wild Blueberry For Global Production

In the past 10 years, the global blueberry crop has tripled. Yet the big, round commercial blueberry is a fairly recent innovation. It was created by breeders exactly 100 years ago, in New Jersey.
NPR

Just How Arbitrary Is Fox's 10-Person GOP Debate Cutoff?

The top 10 candidates, as determined by Fox's analysis of polls, will debate Thursday. But even when you average polls together, it's tough to tell the difference between the lower-ranked hopefuls.
NPR

Sexist Reactions To An Ad Spark #ILookLikeAnEngineer Campaign

After being surprised by online responses to her appearance in a recruiting ad, engineer Isis Wenger wanted to see if there anyone else felt like they didn't fit a "cookie-cutter mold."

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.