Wrong Side of History
The Writer Who Hated the March on Washington

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | January 17, 2022                    

March on Washington | Black Rights vs. White Fragility, 1963-2020

In November 1863, during the U.S. Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech at a soldier’s cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In an editorial five days after, The Patriot & Union newspaper chose to focus on trashing Sec. of State Edward Everett’s two-hour speech preceding it. Of Lincoln’s speech, this was their only comment:

“We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of.”

Naturally, the Gettysburg Address became one of the most famous speeches in American – and human history. The paper did retract their blunder, though – 150 years after.

In 1963, a century later, another major American speech was delivered, at a historic and catalyzing political event on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The March on Washington For Jobs & Freedom, appropriately enough, culminated at the Lincoln Memorial, where the entire Gettysburg Address is engraved on a towering wall for millions of visitors to view. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made a point of referencing Lincoln’s legacy in the opening of his stirring “I Have A Dream” , even mimicing the “score” phrasing.

“Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.”

A quarter million people attended the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, but not everyone was happy about it at the time, either.

Some naysayers predicted chaos, violence and destruction of property. When that didn’t materialize, they either moved the goalposts or simply pretended they’d been proven right anyway.

One such pundit was David Lawrence (1888-1973), best known as the founder of U.S. News & World Report magazine. Lawrence used his syndicated newspaper column to condemn the event as a “mob” scene and a “day of public disgrace”. “To say that the “march” was successful because large-scale violence was avoided”, he complained, “is to ignore the bitterness and resentment prevalent on that day in a city whose normal community life was disrupted.”

He found a sympathetic ear in Texas Congressman Bruce Alger (1918-2015), a right wing extremist Republican who would have fit right in with the “MAGA” crowd. Alger entered the column into the record on Sept. 3rd, explaining, “sighs of relief could be heard in Washington when the civil rights march was over. The absence of violence became cause for rejoicing, as though nonviolence, encouraged by the presence of thousands of police and troops, was a victory in itself. David Lawrence helps to put this event into perspective—few have questioned the cost of this march to the taxpayers, little has been said about the tremendous inconveniences and violations of other rights and privileges by this occasion. Now comes a voice of commonsense to say what must be said. Others may join, too, in proclaiming this demonstration a day of disgrace for our Nation.”

David Lawrence (1888-1973)

As time passed, Lawrence stuck to his views like glue. When the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was developing, he warned it would be a dangerous use of federal power. And in a 1968 column, not long after Martin Luther King had been assassinated, he returned to moaning about civil rights “demonstrations” in DC (scare-quotes his) and their ill effects on society. As if to gloat, he proceeded to quote his entire 1963 column condemning the peaceful March on Washington.

Reaction, however, was generally favorable. The Chicago Tribune noted it “showed evidence of careful organization and discipline” and was “attended by no disorder”... a “job well done”. The Chicago Sun-Times concurred, “there was no occasion for violence; it had a revival-picnic type atmosphere”. The New York Times said the massive gathering “embodied, in concept and in execution, the noblest of our democracy.”

Today the historic March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial is a revered moment in history, and Martin Luther King’s birthday is a national holiday. Yet the dream has been...deferred.

The nation witnessed true mayhem and mob violence recently in Washington, DC on January 6th, 2021. The deadly insurrection at the Capitol, swarming with radical militia groups and white supremacists, was part of an organized attempt to take over the federal government and install a dictator. It’s a day that should have been the stuff of David Lawrence and other “law and order” type’s nightmares, but who can tell anymore.

United States media archive

August 29, 1963

‘Rights’ March Called A Public Disgrace


WASHINGTON — The “March on Washington” will go down in history as marking a day of public disgrace — a step backward in the evolution of the American system of government. For the image of the United States presented to the world is that of a republic which had professed to believe in voluntarism rather than coercion, but which on Aug. 28, 1963, permitted itself to be portrayed as unable to legislate “equal rights” for its citizens except under the intimidating influence of mass demonstrations.

The press, television, and radio, the public forums in halls and stadiums — all have been available heretofore as mediums through which the “right of petition” could be effectively expressed and public opinion formed on controversial questions.

But a minority group — led by men who drew to their side church leaders and groups as well as civic organizations — decided that a massive publicity stunt would be a better way to impress Congress and the President with the idea that unemployment and racial discrimination can be legislated out of existence.

[John F. Kennedy sent his bill to Congress in June. After his death, Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a tribute to JFK]

Government by mob has on a few occasions in the past darkened the pages of American history. A. Philip Randolph, the leader of the “march” this week, frankly characterized the “march” as a symbol of “revolution.” He said:

“In our pluralistic democratic society, causes must gain acceptance and approval and support. They can only gain acceptance, approval, and support if they can get attention, and in order to get attention — with numerous causes seeking the focus of public opinion — it is necessary for the dramatization to be developed of a given cause...”

Mr. Randolph, however, was not content with trying to mobilize American public opinion. He told an audience at the National Press Club on Monday that the “March on Washington” would bring into “world focus” the struggle of peoples of color in America “for first-class citizenship.” He added:

“It will have the value of giving the peoples of the world some concept of this problem...It will serve to bring world pressure upon the United States of America to step up the struggle to wipe out race bias, because in the cold war in the conflict of the free world with the totalitarian world the free world is seeking the alliance of the Afro-Asian world. And in order that the free world may win the alliance of the Afro-Asian world, the free world must show that we are not only making promises to Africa and promises to Asia to help them advance their cause, but we are going to keep our promises, fulfill our promises with our own citizens at home especially Negroes of African descent.”

“Africa will not trust the United States in its promise to the peoples of Africa unless they realize and understand that the Negroes here in America are giving and evincing basic trust in the promises that have been made by our own country to them. And so, the ‘March on Washington’ is an expression, a great step forward of the confrontation between the civil-rights revolution and our American society.”

But could not the merits of the civil-rights “revolution” have been presented effectively to American audiences without street demonstrations? Couldn’t the State Department and the “Voice of America” instead have dealt comprehensively abroad with the story of the efforts being made inside the United States to deal with the “civil rights” problem?

Also, would it not have been better if the leaders of the “march” had not by their tactics incurred some unfavorable publicity? What shall be said, for instance, of the Gallup Poll result published this week in many newspapers which indicated that 68 per cent of the American people disapproved of the “March on Washington” and thought it unnecessary? Last month another Gallup Poll revealed that six out of every ten Americans believe the mass demonstrations by the Negroes would hurt their cause.

The “right of petition” is a fundamental principle of the Constitution, but it assumes an orderly and non-provocative procedure. The federal government had to go to large expense to police the demonstration Wednesday and to keep people from crowding into the city who might participate in disorders. To say that the “march” was successful because large-scale violence was avoided is to ignore the bitterness and resentment prevalent on that day in a city whose normal community life was disrupted. Tens of thousands of people remained secluded in their homes lest they become injured or subjected to unwarranted delays in moving to and from their residences. American citizens were prevented from pursuing their customary ways. Their right to go to their places of employment was impaired by fear of bodily injury.

Would this have happened if the petitioners had relied on the process of reason in a voluntary society, or was it a sample of what happens in backward countries when some force stronger than the individual takes over and prevents freedom of movement? Are injustices remedied by creating more injustices, and is the cause of civil rights advanced by interfering with the civil rights of non-participants in the mass demonstrations?

These are questions which will need answering, and the full effect of what may come to be called “the mess in Washington” could be reflected in future elections. For what was proved by the big demonstration — that in free America only the mob can get laws passed covering the issue of “civil rights”?

Political cartoon by Charles Brooks of The Birmingham News (Alabama), circa 1967.

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Related links:

The March on Washington | Black Rights vs. White Fragility, 1963-2020

Americans Inconsistent on Negroes | The Salt Lake Tribune (Letter), May 20, 1951

Taxpayer Does Not Get Money’s Worth? (June 1953 letter on Socialism)

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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