Meet The Press: Roy Wilkins and Martin Luther King, Jr. on March on Washington

Air Date: 08/25/1963
Meet the Press
Lawrence Spivak
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NBCUniversal Media, LLC.
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Over 100,000 people are expected to participate in the March on Washington. The march is being held in support of civil rights legislation, jobs, freedom, and equality.

Meet The Press: Roy Wilkins and Martin Luther King, Jr.
August 25, 1963

MR.BROOKS: This is Ned Brooks, inviting you to MEET THE PRESS. Our guests today on MEET THE PRESS are the heads of the two major groups participating in the March on Washington this Wednesday, Mr. Roy Wilkins and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Mr. Wilkins is Executive Secretary of the oldest and largest Negro organization, the NAACP. Dr. King, who is President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, has become a symbol of nonviolence in the civil rights movement. We will start the questions now with Lawrence E. Spivak, permanent member of the MEET THE PRESS panel.

MR. SPIVAK: Mr. Wilkins, there are a great many people, as I am sure you know, who believe it would be impossible to bring more than 100,000 militant Negroes into Washington without incidents and possibly rioting. What do you see as the effect on the just cause of the Negro if you do have incidents, if you do have any rioting?

MR.WlLKINS: I don't think there will be any rioting. I don't think 100,000 people just assembling is cause for apprehension about a riot. The city of Washington has accommodated much larger crowds and nobody has talked up in advance the possibility of violence. But of course if there should be violence – and we have taken every precaution to see that there is not – it might have an effect on the public's attitude toward the civil rights movement.

MR. SPIVAK: Mr. Wilkins, what gains do you think you could make as a result of this march that will outweigh the risks you take? And there are risks you are taking.

MR. WILKINS: We don't regard the risks as being that great, and we think the gains are immeasurable, because we will bring to the capital of the nation, to its proper place, and to the Congress of the United States, the deep concern of millions of Americans over this question, concern which has been shown in local demonstrations, which has erupted and been shown in city councils and state legislatures and which needs to be brought to the Congress, because as you will recall, the Congress passed in 1957 the first civil rights law in 82 years. We think it is time they should pass a lot of laws, and we think the fact that 100,000 people will come here from 50 states to show by their presence that they believe that this legislation should take place is worth whatever small risks are involved.

MR. SPIVAK: Don't you think, though, that both the country and Congress itself is aware of the situation? When you read the press today and you read about the demonstrations that have gone on for some time now all over the country, don't you think they have made Congress aware and the people of the country of the seriousness of this situation? Do you have to take the risks you are going to take in order to emphasize it?

MR. WILKINS: Mr. Spivak, I don't believe the Congress as a whole has been as responsive to this situation as it should have been. A great many Congressmen have been sensitive to it and a great many Senators. But there is evidence that they still believe we can do business on the civil rights front in the same old way.

MR. SPIVAK: One more question: What are your latest estimates of the crowd that you expect on Wednesday?

MR. WILKINS: I am contenting myself with saying more than100,000. I am unable to say whether it will be 110,000, 145,000, or 190,000, but I will say it will be more than 100,000, and I personally tend to be a little conservative.

MR. VAN DER LINDEN: Dr. King, the vast majority of the demonstrators who will be here on Wednesday undoubtedly believe that they are sincerely aiding the cause of jobs and freedom as advertised, however, many people are afraid that some of the people involved in the movement may have other motives. Some of those fears arise from the fact that the Deputy Director of the March, the man who is credited in Life Magazine with being the one who thought it up in the first place, is named Bayard Rustin. According to the Congressional Record of August 13, Rustin admits that he is a former member of the Young Communist League, and there is other evidence that he attended the 16th National Convention of the Communist Party as an observer in 1957. I have a copy here of the statement of the observers. And in the same year he made a speech in New York defending the so-called democratic reforms in Poland, a Communist country. You know Mr. Rustin very well, since he was your secretary for five years, from 1955 to '60. I would like to ask you do you feel confident he is qualified in every way to lead this movement?

DR. KING: I think Mr. Rustin has made it palpably clear that he has no sympathy for the Communist philosophy, and he has no involvement in the Communist Party or any Communist cause for that matter. He has made that clear, and lam convinced that it is true. He renounced any convictions that he had on that point many, many years ago, and I do not think it is quite fair to raise the issue, as many is trying to do at this hour, because he has rendered real service to the civil rights struggle over the last few years. I would say that Mr. Rustin will render good leadership, but he is not one of the chairmen of this March, he is a part of the March in the sense that he is Deputy Director. But he is not one of the chairmen, he is just a part of a great movement, and I think the many people who are working in the march, the many organizations that have endorsed it, the many institutions and individuals that have endorsed it, have all faith that it will be in the deepest tradition of American democracy.

MR. VANDER LINDEN: Sir, you state this was some time ago, but the Un-American Activities Committee of the House has issued a very recent report showing that as -late as March 14, 1962, the same Bayard Rustin spoke at a meeting called the Medical Aid to Cuba Committee which was organized ostensibly for the purpose of raising money to send supplies to Castro's Cuba. That was only a year ago. Do you still stand by your statement that he has no connection with any of these people?

DR. KING: Yes, as far as I know. And I think I can be safe in saying that I am absolutely convinced that Mr: Rustin has no connection with any Communist organization, and he has no views that are in line with the Communist Party. I cannot speak on that particular issue because I am not familiar with it, but I am talking now in terms of his general views that I have heard him discuss publicly and that I have discussed with him. I think Mr. Rustin is as committed to American democracy and as committed to the ideals of democracy as anyone at this time.

MR. MACNEIL: Mr. Wilkins, the march on Wednesday is the psychological climax of a movement that has been crescendoing for many months. What do you plan after Wednesday?

MR. WILKINS: Mter Wednesday, of course, will be the follow-up on the crescendo, as you say, that has been developing. It will be immediately addressed to the task of getting legislation through the Congress, and then it will proceed, as it must proceed, on all local and state levels, to the elimination step by step, or sweepingly as the case might be, of remaining pockets of discrimination, even while we wait for legislation from the Congress. There will be one other aspect, of course, and that has been developing all along. That is to guide and direct and instruct and inspire the Negro population to take part-that is, in a sense of responsibility-in the newly integrated society, and this is going forward, contrary to a great many critics.

MR MacNEIL: I was wondering how you were going to maintain the militancy of your followers after having brought them to such a pitch as this march will achieve, without making it difficult to keep them nonviolent.

MR. WILKINS: Mr. MacNeil, our people are coming to Washington to show their government how deeply they feel about this matter, and they are not coming here to stage violence or to put on any stunts. They intend to go back from this place, which is as you say a peak, but only a notification of their national government. They intend to go back to their home communities and continue in the same tempo, on the same goals that are there in each of the states and the cities and localities in which they live.

MR. MacNEIL: Is there any likelihood that the joint leadership of this March will fuse into a single civil rights movement instead of as you are now, broken up into several different groups?

MR. WILKINS: I don't anticipate any actual fusion. I anticipate continued cooperation, collaboration, but I don't see why we should be expected to fuse into one monolithic' organization when no other group or no other interest in this country has done so. All have their separate organizations.

MR. MacNEIL: Except that it has been usual for groups of people with one main aim to pursue that aim as single groups at first, anyway.

MR. WILKINS: I won't go into it here, but I think I could challenge you on the vivisectionists, for example, and various sects of various other movements. But let's just say that we intend to cooperate, the leadership and the groups, and to keep our eyes singled to the goal at hand without actual physical fusion.

MR. WILSON: Dr. King, we often hear it said here that while the Negro drive for equality is a justifiable movement, in the last year the Negroes have been pushing too hard and too fast. We hear this sometimes from white people, we hear it from Negroes.
There was a recent interview with a leading Chicago businessman to this effect. There has been concern about the sit-ins, about some of the incidents that have happened in connection with them. Do you find any substantial reaction among white people to this effect, or does it affect you in any way in the conduct of your movement? .

DR. KING: There may be this reaction among many whites in this country. I am sure that many whites in both North and South have the feeling that we are pushing things too fast and that we should cool off a while, slow up for a period. I cannot agree with this at all, because I think there can be no gainsaying of the fact that the Negro has been extremely patient. We have waited for well-now 345 years for our basic constitutional and God-given rights, and we still confront the fact that we are at the bottom of the economic ladder. We confront the fact that the gap between the medium income of Negroes and whites is widening every day. We confront the fact that the Negro is still the victim of glaring and notorious conditions of segregation and discrimination. I think instead of slowing up, we must push at this point, and we must continue to move on, and I am convinced that our moving on will not only help the Negro cause, so to speak, but the cause of the whole of America, because the shape of the world today just doesn't permit our nation the luxury of an anemic democracy.

MR.WILSON: Dr. King, in that connection, an advertisement was published today in The New York Times by Freedom House of which Mr. Wilkins, I believe, is one of the trustees. And the membership of Freedom House contains, the Board contains many prominent people whom I think would be regarded as humanitarians, both white and Negro. I interpret the text of this advertisement to reflect a feeling among these thoughtful people that moderation now is required more than it has been in the
recent past. Would you interpret this statement in that light? I am sure
you have seen it.

DR. KING: I am sorry, I haven't had a chance to read this statement, but on the question of moderation, I would be the first to say that 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 certainly immoral to slow up at this point. I think that moderation must mean moving on, if it means anything, with calm reasonableness.

MR. WILSON: Let me quote to you just one statement in the statement made by the Public Affairs Committee of Freedom House: “We strongly urge that the right of all to be seen and to be heard be kept inviolate. We deplore both rowdyism that forced the Negro minister off a Chicago platform and silenced that city's mayor and that which broke up the picket lines before a Bronx diner.” They cite other instances. I think they probably could have cited the recent action against the mayor of New York, who is taking part in your movement. Are these extreme actions condoned by you and your groups?

DR. KING: I wouldn't say that I condone every action that is taking place at this time. I think we must see that we are in the midst of a great social revolution in this nation, and no social revolution can be neat and tidy at every point. I think the amazing thing is that it has been as neat and tidy as it has been and that it has been as nonviolent as it has been. This reveals that there is a great deal of discipline in this movement and a great deal of dignity. While there may be things here and there that may come for the moment, things that we may not condone, I still feel that by and large this has been a well disciplined movement, deeply rooted in the principles of non-violence and peaceful protest.

MR. SPIVAK: Mr. Wilkins, there is an increasing number of people who are saying that if the President's full civil rights program is not passed by this Congress there is going to be large-scale violence in this country. Do you think that?

MR. WILKINS: I don't hold, Mr. Spivak, with the predictions of large-scale violence, and I tend to suspect people who keep harping on the point. It seems to me they are in a way encouraging violence, implanting the idea of violence. The Negro has been disappointed before, both in legislation and in other matters and. he has not. resorted to violence. I think there will be deep and widespread resentment, which may be very articulate and perhaps unpleasant, but I would not predict that there would be violence if the President's program is not passed.

MR. SPIVAK: Let me ask you the other side of that question: Suppose the full program is passed. Will the Negro organizations give the country a chance to digest the new .laws, or win they immediately ask for new laws?

MR. WILKINS: The President's program, of course, was greeted by everyone as, while the most comprehensive ever offered by a chief executive, still one that was not radical. It is a moderate program, and if it is passed in its entirety, all the problems will not go away, and there will be no necessity, as I see it and as I read the bill, for the country to have a chance to digest the bill. It isn't that indigestible. It won't choke you to death. We need a lot of things in addition to what the President has proposed, and he would be the first to acknowledge that.

MR. SPIVAK: At your convention recently I believe you your- self said that the President's program “is inadequate to meet the minimum demands of the existing situation.” Does that mean that you are immediately going to start asking for a great deal more?

MR. WILKINS: I agree with Dr. King's reply to the moderation, pushing-too-hard question. I think it is incumbent upon the Negro population to keep asking for more, because they have been deprived for so long and by such a variety of means and in so many areas. So, that while we will be grateful for whatever bill is passed, provided it is a good bill-we won't be grateful for a sliver-we cannot let down in our pressure for still more correction of the evils as we see them.

MR. VAN DER LINDEN: Mr. Wilkins, the march here Wednesday is apparently to be the launching pad for a new national all-Negro party which, according to The New York Times, will be called the Freedom Now Party and the acting chairman is identified as Conrad J. Lynn, a Negro lawyer who is best known for defending the Puerto Ricans who shot and wounded several congressmen here a few years ago. He says this is to be the party of change and challenge and will take the issues to the streets. I would like to ask if either you or Dr. King favor the formation of such an all-Negro party.

MR. WILKINS: Mr. Lynn is the organizer of that party. He didn't consult me about it, and he hasn't until this moment consulted me about it. I got my information on it as you did, from reading The New York Times.

MR. VAN DER LINDEN: Do you personally favor it?

MR. WILKINS: 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.

MR. MacNEIL: Dr. King, you are quoted in today's New York Times Magazine as saying, '”The Negro's demand for equality must be approximated if not totally fulfilled.” Would you say what you believe approximate equality is?

DR. KING: I think equality is the ability of the individual in any society to achieve respect and dignity and all of the other things that any individual in that society would achieve without the barriers of laws standing before him saying, “You cannot go here,” or “You cannot do this,” and without customary barriers. I think in order for the Negro to approximate equality here all of the barriers of racial segregation must be removed and all of the barriers of discrimination, whether it is in housing conditions, whether it is in employment where the Negro confronts a great deal of discrimination, whether it is in the actual legal segregation of the South in schools or the de facto segregation in the northern schools. All of these barriers must be removed before the Negro can even begin moving up the highway of freedom in all of its dimensions.

MR. MacNEIL: How do you reconcile “approximate equality” with the remark in the same article in The New York Times Magazine by a Dr. Clark, that the Negro's goal is “unqualified equality”?

DR. KING: I think this is a goal. I am speaking now of just something of a starting point but not feeling that if we get these things we will have achieved the end. These things are the things that must be existing in order to begin the process of becoming full citizens in this nation. I do feel that if we are to be truly Americans and citizens of tills nation, then we must not have any barriers standing before us on the basis of race.

MR.. MacNEIL: Does that mean you don't believe in social equality as a possibility?

DR. KING: When you say "social equality," I am not exactly clear on what you mean.

MR. MacNEIL: The distinction is James Baldwin's.

DR. KING: Yes. Well, I think we must face the fact that in reality you cannot have economic and political equality without having some form of social equality. I think this is inevitable, and I don't think our society will rise to its full maturity until we come to see that men are made to live together as brothers and that we can have genuine inter-group, inter-personal living, and still be in the kind of society which we all long to achieve.

MR. BROOKS: I am sorry to interrupt, but I see that our time is up. Thank you very much, Mr. Wilkins and Dr. King, for being with us.

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