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I recently noted an LP record titled “The Best of Jean Shepard.”
So I thought, why not a “Best of Jean Shepherd.”
This proves to be a difficult task to compile, in part because there are so many audios of his broadcasts and so many published stories and other works. My memory is deteriorating and I can’t listen to and reread all his published work. I’d appreciate suggestions about what to add to my list, including sources/dates and reasons for the choices.
As a representative selection for possible inclusion with my EYF! (which never happened–it was nixed by the publisher as too expensive) and for eventual distribution as a premium for WBAI, I compiled a CD-worth of excerpts from Shep programs.
Assume that, as a given, I choose the broadcasts below because I feel or assume they are well-told besides having the particular attributes that especially gab me.
I, Libertine,.First comments and suggestion of a hoax. (4 ?/??/1956) One of the great “Holy Grail” Shepherd broadcasts. I have not heard it but I have thought about it and read little bits about it so often that it is a permanent part of my “memory,” and it must be one of the great moments in literary and shepherdian history.
March on Washington. Narrative told the day after the March. (8/29/1963) Shepherd describes his trip, not as a reporter, but as just another American. This conforms to his attitude as an informed and enthusiastic American patriot.
JFK Assassination. First day back on the air. (11/26/1963) Shepherd, from time to time, had described his feelings about psychological issues in America, and he takes this opportunity to reiterate some of them and link them to the assassination.
“Blues I Love to Sing.” Program I describe and partly transcribe in EYF! (6/16/1957) Shepherd interacts with the singer on the record and expresses his joy in the narrative situation he depicts. This but a ten minute portion of the four-hour program. He uses what is a familiar image from his earlier days of the “figure tattered and torn.”
“Why I am Such a Sorehead.” Discusses Mark Twain and Morse code–I describe in EYF! (1/6/1965) He integrates into his narration, Twain, one of his favorite predecessors. He develops the metaphor of the Mississippi as a dangerous path in life, and relates it to one of his favorite activities, Morse code, suggesting that we all have some activity that, in reality, we are not as good at as we think and hope we are.
“Shermy the Wormy.” My transcription in Shep’s Army. (9/4/1964)
“Fourth of July in the Army.” My transcription in Shep’s Army. (7/3/1963)
“Lister Bag Attack.” My transcription in Shep’s Army. (6/17/1966)
“Boredom Erupts.” My transcription in Shep’s Army. (9/18/1969)
“Private Sanderson.” My transcription in Shep’s Army. (1/13/1971)
“Naked Baseball in the Army.” Told on the air, published in Playboy.
“Troop Train Ernie.” Told on the air, published in Shep’s A Fistful of Fig Newtons as
“The Marathon Run Of Lonesome Ernie, The Arkansas Traveler”
“Og and Charlie.” He told stories several times about these two cave-man-type-near-humans. They were a good metaphor for how Shep felt that humanity still was–not quite the mentally/emotionally advanced race we think we are.
Peru–The whole group of programs focusing on his trip, from how it came about to when he got home to contemplate the experience. At the time, he felt it was the best travel experience he’d ever had.
In addition to all of the above, one must add some of the innumerable bits and pieces of his delightful and cuckoo musical interludes on his silly little instruments–including on his sometimes silly head.
I made my own classical guitar. I’m fascinated by how the shape/formation of objects combine form with function. (It’s my design training still influencing me after all these years.) How does the form of a guitar contribute to its sound? Encountering a two-semester, adult evening class in constructing (not from a “kit”) a classical guitar from the raw materials one buys in a shop that supplies such to professionals, I took the course.
I kept notes and I took photos. Two parts of the classical guitar that might vary are the shape of the head and the luthier’s (guitar-maker’s) choice of how to configure the inside structural supports for the top of the body. I designed a simple, classical head, and chose internal struts for the body’s top that I thought would enforce high notes on the higher strings, and lower tones for the lower strings. I redrew all the instruction pages for the instructor’s future use–the upper left of the head is one of my pages.
An eb element of the rosette
around the sound hole.
I also designed and made the wooden rosette with my eb initials, and designed and installed my label.
While I was peacefully working on my guitar construction, my then-wife, from Granada, Spain, threatened me with a kitchen carving knife and I grabbed and rolled up for protection, my Sunday New York Times Arts Section (Yes, the Arts Section–it was the closest at hand), and that’s as far as I’ll take that true story. Except that I did incorporate the episode into my fact/fiction unpublished novel, The Pomegranate Conspiracy.
I completed my guitar at the end of the course, and practiced playing, struggling
for several unsuccessful years. Now my guitar is hung on a wall.
I love classical guitars and guitar music. I also like looking at Picasso’s guitar collages. So much so that I played around with one of his collage reproductions. First, with a color copier that scans one color at a time, I let it scan the first colors, then slightly shifted the original for the scanning of the black. Then I printed it and applied black-and-white photo prints of the underneath side of my guitar top, half on each side, with, in the middle, a photo of myself playing my newly completed guitar. One might title it:
“The Picasso/Bergmann Guitar Collage.”
I’m Conflicted About This Artsy Of Mine.
Is it a witty, clever, personal homage to an artist I greatly admire,
done by manipulating one of his works
(that he had first made by manipulating and reconstructing stuff),
or is it a fartsy, esthetic travesty for which I should be ashamed?
→ It is a unique collaged collage ←
Would Picasso have liked it? *
THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE
A Tragedy in Obdurate Acts
and Extenuating Circumstances
Why and how he was switched from the more innovative overnights (at the NJ transmitter) to the in-studio, earlier-in-the-evening slot, is unknown. That he seemed to have retained the impetus of the overnights into Sunday evening, is a major victory. He seemed to have retained the slow and easy-going style of the overnights (I’m assuming this, as the following, much shorter broadcasts are of a different kind–still seemingly loose, and definitely improvised, but a bit less free-flowing.) That this schedule gave way to those earlier, 45-minute weekday segments, also represents a change that resulted in a different kind of show with its own very high-quality use of the radio medium.
My chart, shown in the previous post on the subject–as well as in a much earlier post–shows the difference in his career trajectory. Most noticeable in the programs themselves would seem to be the much larger percentage of school-age listeners and what I observe is the absence of contemporary jazz.
Many prefer his more refined and organized, 45-minute improvised radio to his long, Sunday evening, looser style. There is something easier to take, more conventional, more traditional as art and organization in his 45-minute style. He recreated himself, and that is a great accomplishment. The variety from night to night over about seventeen years is a marvel to behold. His commentaries, wit, philosophical bits and pieces, his cuckoo musical interludes with jews harp, nose flute, kazoo, and head-knocking, his stories that seem both improvised and sometimes, somehow well-formed, coming out just right at the end of the show. We revel in the variety, the unexpectedness, the mastery.
Comic strip artist Bill Griffith, in his “Zippy the Pinhead” tribute, expresses it well: HIS WIT WAS LIKE A LIFE RAFT TO ME. I CONFESS…I WAS A CULTIST…AND JEAN SHEPHERD WAS MY GURU. WHO KNOWS WHAT DEEP SUBCONSCIOUS EFFECT HIS LATE-NIGHT LOQUACIOUSNESS HAD ON ME…?
The large influx of high school and college listeners was a good thing as far as sponsorship was concerned, and Shepherd also enjoyed the adulation. But he did not so much like the intense crowding of his personhood that such cult-like celebrity brought.
As I’ve suggested before, I believe that, despite such masterpieces of his post-1960 WOR days as: Eulogy of JFK; Morse Code and Mark Twain; March on Washington, etc., Jean Shepherd’s creative heights leveled off at the very high standard he maintained for another decade-and-a-half.
Stay tuned for Part 5 of
THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE
It makes everybody that much more irritated when you get back into real life. It’s like people who were in a crowd on VJ day can’t forget. People who were in a crowd during a moment of genuine rapport. The minute you go back to the fistfight and the hollering and the yelling, somehow it tastes even more bitter—that fistfight and hollering and yelling. And there’s a strange nostalgic feeling for that moment. That great moment when everyone’s passing the fried chicken around, that sun is sitting up there, and they’re singing “The Star Spangled Banner” and that old man behind me is saying, “But they’re singing ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’ We’re usually quiet when they’re singing ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ madam. Please, will you please?”
[Last of March on D. C. Next travel=Maine]
Coming back. You’d expect terrible disorganization. No it wasn’t. We were all drifting back to all the busses and I was sitting down on the basin waiting for our bus and people were walking around and they were drinking Cokes. It was like a great company picnic where everybody knew everybody else. Waving, talking, eating. And finally the busses assembled and one by one the busses took off. Our bus backed out, going north and, all along the route through town—and this was late, about eight-thirty or so—there were people walking, waving at our bus, which didn’t have any big, jazzy sign, it was just a busload of plain, ordinary people sitting in there. And they were waving and hollering and grinning. It wasn’t a feeling of, “Boy, we showed ‘em, didn’t we!” but it was a feeling of, “Boy, it was wonderful that you came!” People were riding along in their cars, just ordinary people, and they were all waving at the busses from their cars as we were going out of town, going north.
Out along the highway, millions of busses one after the other. One after the other! A fantastic parade. And in the end, I’m sure it was a parade that no one will ever forget. A truly historic moment. Not a historic moment politically even. It was a historic moment for a lot of people who did not conceive of people being this way. It’s a new concept, really. For a moment there. At least for a moment it was there.
It was a historic moment
for a lot of people
who did not conceive
of people being this way.
It’s a new concept, really.
For a moment there.
At least for a moment it was there.
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.
Then they brought out one entertainer after another. This was the entertainment before the real thing. In the middle of it all, because we were not in our proper location, somebody decided to bring our delegation up toward the front. We had been between the plumbers and the cement workers and a Catholic local from Baltimore. So we wound up in the right place and suddenly I got a new perspective on it all. Because I was now looking at it from a very different direction and I could see all the newsmen there—very official—roped off. You couldn’t get near them. And they were going to report it.
And I saw all these official show-bizz types frantically running around getting photographed. Somehow, that was the one discordant moment that I had. I didn’t see any of these people who got their pictures in all the papers doing any marching. Getting their pictures taken and signing autographs as though somehow, they vaguely were responsible for goodness. As though all of show business had gathered and they were autographing each other and loving each other and taking pictures with each other. And all the while they were signing autographs, Martin Luther King was giving his brilliant speech.
I HAVE A DREAM
[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.
And, I mean, there wasn’t an available inch in those busses that wasn’t used. Lunches and all kinds of stuff—stuff to sit on and fans for the sweat off your brow—hot!—oh boy!
Well, we started out—all I can say is that it was a fantasy in so many ways. There are a few occasions in your lifetime when you are reminded of the fact of how diverse humanity really is. On the one hand they are capable of the most incredible humanity. I hate to use such as word as “humanity” applied to human beings—but I say that probably a squirrel is capable of humanity towards people. But they are capable of things which you could not believe, after having lived in an urban world in the twentieth-century. And, of course, they’re capable of the other. You keep seeing the other superimposed in your own mind. The “other.” You know what I mean by the other.
To begin with, thinking about this thing for weeks in advance, I had talked with guys who were planning to go and arranging this thing. I had all kinds of ideas about the way it would be. Just like all of us have ideas in our head about how history is. I’m sure you have ideas about how it must have been to be in Germany in the 20s. Well, it wasn’t. Not the way you think it was. I’m sure you have ideas of how it must have been when Washington was crossing the Delaware. Forget it. It wasn’t. I was not there but I know one thing—it wasn’t the way you think it was. I’ve found that very few things are the way you think they are.
One of the great moments was to be riding along in this bus in the semi-darkness, everybody’s feeling tired, and there was a peculiar excitement of the unknown. No one knew quite what to expect. And what was, I thought, quite significant, no one even talked about the event to which we were going. Now that, I think, is interesting. I waited, I listened carefully. Nobody said a word about it. They talked about the bus, they talked about the lunch they were carrying, they talked about their shoes hurting, they talked about everything. It was as though nobody wanted to talk about where we were going and why. And particularly the people who were deeply involved in it, the negroes we had with us—I’m going to say right away, some of the greatest people I’ve ever known in my life. Well, that’s another story. It goes back to Nigeria and other areas of life and existence. We can’t go into that right now.
But driving along through the darkness, we were whistling along the Jersey Turnpike, and the bus had a governor on it as cross-town busses do. (The cross-town bus driver was hollering for transfers and he was ducking imaginary cabs all the way.) We weren’t out on the Turnpike more than five minutes when other busses started to pass us in the darkness. The particular rapport between the busses was insane. It’s obvious that you’re not going to see a cross-town bus out on the Jersey Turnpike heading south unless there’s something going on—this bus was just not a bus headed for Paramus. Well, we’re going along in the darkness, a bus would go past and instantly you’d see all these hands out the window waving at our bus. Our bus is waving at them. Great moment. And after awhile you got so it was just normal. When we got off the Turnpike past Philadelphia and on through Delaware, we were skirting a railroad track and a train went past us with about nine passenger cars loaded to the gunnels with people. And the whole train was waving at our bus! And we’re waving at the train and the crew was waving out of the front of the locomotive! I’m just describing to you what exactly happened.
We arrived on the outskirts of Washington. Now people began to talk about— “Wow, I bet we’re going to be late, boy what a traffic jam.” They never once talked about the event, even when we got there.
(More of Shep’s description to come.)
Sorry for the delay in posting–we’ve now moved and are surrounded by scores of packed boxes we’re having trouble locating stuff in. The local library has come to our temporary rescue with internet access. eb
MARCH ON WASHINGTON
August 28, 1963 was the day of the historic March on Washington, in which over two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand people gathered in and around the D. C. Mall, focused on the Lincoln Memorial, to demonstrate for civil rights and economic betterment. Among those who performed on stage were Marian Anderson, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Mahalia Jackson. Many other well-known people were also present. The best-known part of the day is that often referred to as Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, which concluded with “…we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.’”
Martin Luther King Jr. “I have a dream….”
The event was extensively covered by the press and television. Jean Shepherd, consistent with his usual disposition, immersed himself in the activity not as a reporter, but as a participant—who could really experience it. The result of his manner of participating is captured in his broadcast the evening after. It is not like other descriptions of the event. Although Shepherd always tells his improvised tales enthusiastically, immersing himself as well as listeners and readers, one might note a certain out-of-breath quality as he describes facts and little incidents while very much caught up in his reliving of the moment. In mid-thought he frequently remembers some tangential idea which must be inserted right then, and he tends to repeat himself a bit—an emotional reaction, I believe. Some editorial adjustment brings these together as he would have meant them to be. He sometimes gets especially excited when describing true events such as this March in which he participated. NPR, during its fortieth anniversary celebration of the March, played a ten-minute segment of his broadcast. This is Jean Shepherd’s unique historical document about what over two-hundred thousand participants experienced, and as such, it contains much objective truth. As for Shepherd, he was overwhelmed.
I was one of the marchers in the big demonstration yesterday, and this experience was probably one of the two or three—words such as “interesting” don’t really mean much in this case. And to use the word “significant” doesn’t mean much either, because “significant” of what? Let’s just say it was one of the two or three most difficult to assay/weigh/put-into-perspective days that I have ever experienced in my life. One of the two or three days. The closest day that I can think of in my experience was VE Day, or maybe even VJ Day. To the tenor, the tone, the quality of what went on and the way the people were.
I went down on this thing very specifically as just a marcher. Just one of the people in a delegation, because I have learned through long experience—and hard experience—that the only real way that you ever get to have even a vague understanding about events is, if you can, possibly, be part of or in the group, or be in with people to whom the event is occurring.
I wonder just how much a newsman ever learns about anything—standing up on the platform. I’m curious. I listened to a lot of jazz yesterday from the newsmen and almost all of them were up on the platform, they were in the news section, which was very, very, very much roped off from the great herd of people who walked along the streets. The great multitude who gathered under the trees, who pushed up through past the Coke stands and finally stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial. I didn’t see many newsmen in that crowd. In fact, I don’t recall seeing one newsman in that crowd.
Another thing that I found very interesting was going down on the bus—we left 47th Street and I rode on a bus with maybe two-hundred-thousand other people, all riding on busses toward Washington. We had a very old, terrible bus. I’ll tell you, have you ever ridden on a bus—a New York cross-town bus—all the way to Washington? I’m serious—a lot of people did. They just took the cross-town sign out and everybody sat on those plastic seats and went all the way to Washington and back.
Stay tuned for Part (2)
I must say, parenthetically, I have never in my life—including several big operations in the army, including a lot of organizations I’ve seen in various other armed services and great events that happened in other cities—I’ve never seen anything like the way the city of Washington handled this thing. Absolutely—I imagine in the end this is going to be a picture-book classic among control and preparation for a vast event. Fantastic! And every last man that I saw involved in this situation—the police, the MPs, the Red Cross people—was in the most wildly great, holiday mood. You just don’t expect it from officials. Everybody cheering when you came in. I don’t know how much of this has been reported! I haven’t seen much of it reported in the press. I think because few reporters came in as a marcher. That’s right. They went in days before and stayed at the hotel and that morning they took the big cab down to the Lincoln Memorial and sat behind the ropes. And started a report. No wonder that in history, the point is always missed about what happened.
We came into the city. One of the moments I will never in my life forget—I just won’t, I know it. Coming into the outskirts of Washington in this bus.
Tired, boy, have you ever ridden six hours on a cross-town bus! Wow! And that seat was like a rock. And we were sweating and the sun was beating down and we arrived and there was a cop waiting for us in a white helmet. The police were to take groups of six busses, with a police escort, to the proper place where they were to go—each group of six was assigned a place. It was fantastic. All the busses were lined up for blocks. And what was intriguing was to find, slowly, everybody in the bus was beginning to thaw. Up to that point they expected officialdom and all that—and they found that officialdom was as much on their side as anybody.
We took off and rode along one of the main streets through the slums and there were hundreds of people on the steps. Little old ladies, grandmas, skinny kids, tough-looking guys, nuns, everywhere we went they were sitting on the porches waving. Not the kind of waving that says, “Go give ‘em hell,” just with a strange, happy, “We’re glad you’re here, how are you.” Just unbelievable feeling all the way through, all out there on the steps and streets waving and everybody in the bus was waving.
We finally arrived at the place where we parked on a side street, and this was a strange moment. We’d stopped a couple of times at gas stations on the way down but when we got out, everybody was bent over stiff-legged and bent over sideways. The back of your neck was hurting and immediately about forty-five people had to go to the john. We walked around and somebody said, “Let’s go to that building over there.” It was a big, gray, official-looking building, and people started to go down the driveway that had big trucks and guys working there who were not connected with the demonstration.
The instant the people started to go down the drive the workers there escorted everybody in where they could get water: “You want any coffee?” They’re cheering you on. “Yeah, come on!” We went in and everybody got water. It was a very odd experience to have people really concerned about you! They really were worried: “Gee, do you want to sit down? How about some coffee.” They were just guys working at that building. “Hey, have some coffee.”
We walked out onto the street and went toward the area where we were going to assemble and march. But it was not at all the way I would have imagined a demonstration or any other kind of event would be run. You’re walking on the street and it was like you were suddenly with a million old friends. It was like a family reunion! A strange feeling, and there wasn’t one moment that was phony about it. I had people step on my foot and say, “Oh, for heaven’s sake, excuse me.” A man standing in front of me when there was a big thing going on said, “Can you see now?”
And one of the great moments was when we walked through a grove of trees and started walking along the street where I met a lot of old friends. And what really intrigued me was the number of people who didn’t come. I will not mention names. But I sure was amazed by the absence of many people who I’d heard do a lot of talking prior to this moment. They just weren’t there. And a lot of people who never said a word were there. You never can tell who the people are in any world—I don’t care what world it is—a football game, whether you are playing cards, or you need money—you sure can’t tell who it’s going to be who’s going to come across. Let me tell you that. Any old GI will tell you that story. That there are a lot of awfully tough commandos in basic training, there are a lot of guys who can go up those fences like mad, and there are a lot of men who can shout commands. It’s an interesting thing as to who comes across when the real stuff is flying in the air. Don’t think for a minute you know who it would be. You do not know. You don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know who your enemies are.
One more thing has to be pointed out. A man told me when we were walking, and he was a negro, by the way, and an old friend of mine. He said, “You know, I wish my cousin who lives in Paris could see this, could be part of this. He would never understand it though.” He said, “This is a purely American thing.” He said, “The headlines—you read a headline about another country—you don’t understand it, because you are not Vietnamese, you know. You just don’t know! You just don’t know what is happening in Belgium because you’re not Belgian. It’s very difficult to know and it is very difficult for a European to understand this. I’m sure it is.”
So we were walking along and thousands and thousands of white people and colored people are standing on the sidelines waving. Guys in offices are cheering and waving. Nobody reported on this! And I want to go on record saying that during the entire day, I did not hear one word that I could construe as being the kind of word that you would hear in demonstrations, I did not hear one moment that I could call a moment that gave me even one instant a feeling of imminent rabble-rousing or any of that stuff. There was just an amazing attitude towards everything. You know, I hate to use such words as “love.” These are ridiculous, meaningless words, but there was a feeling of humanity in the air, like we were all in something together. I’m sure there must have been some guys in the offices who felt the opposite way, and suddenly realized how idiotic they were.
We walked along through this crowd and everybody was standing there waving and so on. It wasn’t a parade—I’m sure it’s going to sound like a parade. Nobody was yelling “WORKERS, UNITE!” They were just sort of walking, the sun coming down, everyone cheering and waving. Also, there was a vague feeling of embarrassment in the air. Just a vague feeling like somebody has laid in a stock of all kinds of stuff he’s going to yell at his friend, he’s going to yell, he’s going to holler, and he gets there and it all goes out the window.
“The first wave of marchers arrives at the Lincoln Memorial.”
We got to the park where the Lincoln Memorial is. Incidentally, this trip once again affirms in my mind that one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been in is Washington. It’s even prettier than it used to be when I went to school for a while there and used to spend weekends in Washington. It’s changed a great deal.
We were coming in and millions of people were gathering, and I don’t know how they can estimate the number of people who were there. There would be no way to estimate it. I have no idea how they came across estimates because busses were coming in from all directions, everywhere, and it was just like a great big cloud—it was about as difficult to tell how big a cloud is or how many drops are in this cloud. Just sort of a big thing, and as we walked through the push started to get rough. And up there on the Lincoln Memorial the crowd was gathered and we pushed down into the crowd. Each delegation, if you could call it that, had a little place where it was supposed to be. Of course it wasn’t there—that went out the window with the cloud.
Everybody trying to get in, walking with their little signs, and suddenly through the crowd was this tiny band of people coming with a little sign that said “MISSISSIPPI.” That was really a moment, I’ll tell you! That was a moment. They came all the way up on some crummy old bus. And everybody was hollering at them and talking and they were laughing and hollering. Incidentally, in that Mississippi group there were more than just a few white people. That should be pointed out. People were slapping them on the back as they walked through.
So they were there. Standing around there. In the middle of it all. This was the greatest crowd I’ve ever been in in my life. A much greater crowd than you’d ever see at a ballgame, which is supposed to be a fun thing. Much greater. Much different thing. You think you know about crowds, but you don’t know about them unless you’ve been in this one.
(More to come)