After CNN anchor Don Lemon said that Black people could help themselves by “pulling their pants up” he found himself in hot water with social media, especially “Black Twitter,” who’s #DonLemonlogic hashtag was one of it’s most hilarious commentaries. Lemon has rebounded by hosting the CNN special “We Were There: The March on Washington – An Oral History” set to air on Friday, August 23 at 10 p.m.
It uses testimony from some of the original marchers to tell the story of how the original 1963 March on Washington, where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, was put together. Without social media to spread the word, the March relied on dedicated organizers to get the word out.
“We’ve got some of the original organizers and we’ve got the woman who was in charge of the phone bank,” Lemon told the Tom Joyner Morning Show. “And she goes through how she stood there on the day of the March and she looked at all those hundreds of thousands of people and she said ‘I must have talked to all of these people.’
She said ‘I’m going to sit right there on the steps of the Memorial and lean my head against this column because I’m so tired, I’ve been working 24 hours for weeks’ and the next thing she knew somebody was saying ‘C’mon, let’s go, it’s over.”
Union leader A. Philip Randolph was one of the key people behind the March. Georgia Representative John Lewis, another instrumental part of the March, is the only one of 10 speakers from that day who is still alive. But it was civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who will posthumously receive the nation’s highest civilian honor, The Presidential Medal of Freedom this year, was the March’s main organizer. He’d already organized a smaller march with 3,000 people but this one was going to be on a much larger scale.
“They weren’t sure that people were going to show up,” Lemon says. “A lot of people were against it because they thought [it would] derail the civil rights laws that they were trying to get enacted. Finally everyone said everyone was on board and it was a lot of bluffing. They went to the churches and unions.
Tom reminded Lemon that Black radio played a huge role as well in organizing the 1963 March. “It was part of every black person’s life. We got the message out.”
Lemon’s takeaway from doing the special was that people were drawn to the March for one central reason.
“They had passion more than anything else,” Lemon says. “When I asked John Lewis how we could honor him, Lewis said that [back then] we were all galvanized for one cause. And that he doesn’t see that anymore.”
The documentary starts with one young man who started walking to the March from Gadsen, Alabama. Despite the obvious challenges of such a journey the young man told Lemon that what we wore was important.
“For every march, every protest, every sit -in I wore a three piece suit,” he told Lemon. “Because if I went to jail I wanted to go to jail with dignity.”
Lemon says it’s that kind of commitment that influenced his recent conversation about Black America and how he feels young Black men, especially should take heed to their example.
“Those people were about taking care of themselves and pulling themselves up and making sure they had dignity and passion and that they did the right thing and that they were personally responsible for themselves.”