And all this time, the real people were seated on the Mall, the great crowd, eating fried chicken and really digging each other for the first time, probably, in a couple of hundred years in America. Nothing to do with chauvinism, but it just happened that it was one of those days—for one of the rare times in the world.
And up there, is business as usual with the celebs. If I had seen a couple of those guys marching, I would feel better about it. I didn’t see many of them do it. But one guy I saw—a famous American author—sitting in a bush. Not autographing or getting cheered on the Lincoln Memorial with the other guys. I was going through a bush and there he was sitting. He said, “Hey, Shep,” and he made a couple of comments: “Boy, what a rotten beard!”
I said, “Yeah. What are you doing here?” In a bush drinking a Coke! He was just sitting there digging it. And I’m sure that in the end, this guy will know a lot more about what went on than those clowns up there on that great big platform.
The whole thing was tremendous, to me personally a genuine education. Among other things I remember one little incident—the food incident. About John Wingate the reporter. You know reporters have got the best of everything, they go down and stay at a hotel. It’s the way a reporter has to work. He’s got a tight schedule. He’s not like other people. Well, Wingate was down there and he’d been working all day long. Newsmen have a devil of a time, sweating and everything else. A large lady came up to him and gave him half of her lunch. She said, “You know, you probably had a lot more work than I did. Here was this large colored lady with flowered dress giving John the fried chicken and John was absolutely— John said, “This is incredible. Just incredible.” I saw Lester Smith in the crowd—he’s one of the calmest, best reporters I’ve ever known and this was one of the few times I’ve seen him absolutely thrown off base.
The feeling again, is a feeling that I can’t describe to you. I’m so glad I went down. And even the hard-bitten guys from Life Magazine, Time Magazine—you could see a great feeling that it was not a news story. You know what I mean by “news story”? It was an experience, an actual experience. All the while the people on the platform are talking about human rights and the human rights were being demonstrated. The word, somehow, didn’t have much meaning really—it was what was going on that had meaning. Everyone had a sense, even the most militant, that the battle was damn near over! In spite of the fact that everyone knows there’s a lot of work—a tremendous amount—to do, it was an affirmation of something that everyone felt never could happen! Not just that it was held well, it was the attitude of everybody. It was just normal people on the streets. A great moment, I’ll tell you that. A tremendously moving experience. And I’ve been involved in a lot of crowd movements before. And, I’ll tell you, I never had that kind of feeling.