[Note the now-politically incorrect term in the following sentence–
it and a couple of others were perfectly fine in their day.]
In fact, a lady said to me—a colored lady was standing next to me and we were talking for an hour about this. She said, “You know, you can’t tell the folks—you just cannot tell them how it was. I don’t know how I’m going to tell them how it was at home, because you can’t tell them how it was unless you were here. And then if you were here you don’t have to be told.” And that’s exactly the truth. She said, “You know, I think even Satan was moved today.”
Well, we were all standing around in this great crowd—it’s going to sound like I invented this. Please listen carefully. This is exactly what happened. There was a man standing back of me who had a big white Panama hat on and like so many of the demonstrators, it was obvious that this was a very big moment for him and he was all dressed up, as were so many. That’s an interesting thing—my delegation was told to wear a jacket and a tie and white shirt, because “this is a thing we’re going to that is very important.” So everybody was all dressed up. As we came into Washington, all the guys were putting their jackets on. And it was hot—oh boy was it hot on the bus. Putting their ties on. Trying to straighten up their clothes and everything, because, as somebody said, it was like going to church with two-hundred-thousand people.
The man behind me, a great guy, a short, stout, negro man with glasses clouded-up because he was sweating like mad, was holding up his little sign that said, “NAACP Boston Branch.” It’s a long way from Boston to Washington on a bus.
You could see nothing except those great white columns of the Lincoln Memorial, and back of you, you saw, all the way in the distance, the Washington Monument standing up there. You saw that photo in the paper today? Well, I want to tell you, that picture does not even come close to what it was really like. How beautiful. That sky was fantastic, the clouds were white and that great, beautiful reflecting of the Washington Monument lying across that water and all those people there all dressed up, ladies with flowered hats and everything else and the kids all shined up. It was just a moment when everybody’s all dressed up and everything’s working fine. The trees were fine, the breeze was blowing, and once in a while a big airplane would come across with its flaps down, going into Washington airport. Somehow everything was there and it was all right.
[This image, it’s said, is from a much earlier appearance of
Marian Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial.]
And Marian Anderson started singing “The Star Spangled Banner.” The usual kind of “Star Spangled Banner” where it was through a PA system and we were so far away we could hardly hear. You couldn’t distinguish the words, but it was “The Star Spangled Banner.” Everybody standing there.
Suddenly, a few feet from me, a big colored lady with a big red hat with big white flowers—the official kind of lady who’s always organizing—starts to holler, “Will the Brooklyn Corps representatives please assemble over here. Please get over here. Brooklyn Corps representatives.” She was hollering in the middle of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Well, the guy back of me says, “Madam, madam.”
She looked at him. “What?”
He said, “They are singing ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’ We usually are quiet during the singing of ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’ Please. They are singing ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’”
She had a funny look on her face. Of course the real organizer is never put off by anything so trivial as feelings or emotions. She looked at him for a moment and turned away.
And he stood there sweating, with his hat off, as Marian Anderson sang “The Star Spangled Banner.” Don’t anyone say to me, “The Uncle Tom.” Stop it, man. You know not whereof you speak.