Three days prior to the 1963 “March on Washington” campaign in the United States, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights movement icon, and Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the NAACP, were invited to the NBC news program “Meet the Press” to address questions concerning the March.
The “Meet the Press” questions reflected the deep-rooted fear that most white people and the US government had about the intensified civil rights movement at the time. The panelists (all white, male journalists) grilled the two leaders about the significance and intended goal of the March and why one would trust that the black marchers would not resort to violence once they reached Washington, D.C, the nation’s capital.
Both MLK and Wilkins responded articulately to the panelists who appeared more like crime interrogators than journalists. The two mature leaders defended the importance of the March and its goal and provided excellent answers that were meant to reassure the fear-ridden citizens and rulers that the Freedom Marchers would have no interest in causing violence as their objective was only demanding their constitutional rights, and that they would remain nonviolent during or after their demonstration.
In one of his answers, MLK addressed a question about moderation. His view on moderation, I believe, is still applicable and essential in today’s political environment though some misinterpret and demonize such view in order to push for a destructive, pointless, radical agenda that lacks long term vision and strategy.
If moderation means moving on toward the goal of justice with wise restraint and calm reasonableness, then we must pursue this path. But if moderation means slowing up at any point and capitulating to the undemocratic practices of many of the forces that are against democracy, then I think it would be tragic and immoral to slow up at this point. I think moderation must mean moving on, if it means anything, with calm reasonableness.
Asked about the possible emergence of a race-based political party, that is a Black nationalist party, after the March, the NAACP’s Mr. Wilkins replied:
…I don’t believe in racial or religious parties; they belong to the old world. The old world has religious parties and ethnic group parties. I think it would be a mistake in this country to base any kind of political party on any ethnic group.
Here is the entire clip:
Three days after the MLK and Wilkins interview, the large number of black Americans and their supporters, more than 250,000 people, who flooded Washington D.C., proved the naysayers wrong and superbly demonstrated that they were disciplined and committed to non-violence—contrary to the exaggerated, popular fear of the time that they would act violent and wild.
50 years later, the half-black and half-white president Obama recalled the 1963 event in his speech today at the Lincoln Memorial:
Because they marched, city councils changed and state legislatures changed and Congress changed and, yes, eventually the White House changed. Because they marched, America became more free and more fair, not just for African Americans but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans, for Catholics, Jews and Muslims, for gays, for Americans with disabilities. America changed for you and for me, and the entire world drew strength from that example.