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DAVID SCHOENBRUN MOERATES A ROUND TABLE DISCUSSION IN AN EMPTY STUDIO WITH GUESTS TO DISCUSS THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT AND THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON. AUGUST 28TH 1963
In a television studio in Washington on August 28 of 1963. As a small group from Hollywood, California joined to give their own personally held views of the Civil Rights gathering which took place on that day. Here as citizens committed to the cause of civil rights are James Baldwin, Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, Joseph Mankiewicz and Sidney Poitier. The moderator, David Schoenbrun.
David Schoenbrun 1:19
I think that it's about time to begin our discussion. We're here in the studio today with seven men who have two things in common. They are entertainers and artists, and they've all come to Washington, there are seven out of some 200,000 American citizens who came to the Capitol to march for freedom and for jobs. They came from many states of the Union. And in many states of mind. They came with many different involvements. Some of them who came here to Washington were long term fighters for civil rights. Some of them have joined only very recently, but perhaps just as intensely. Perhaps we can start with these men and ask each and every one of them to tell us very succinctly to begin the discussion. What brought them to Washington, and how long they've been on this road this march for Jobs and Freedom. Let's begin with a very well known American novelist, one of our best writers, James Baldwin, Mr. Baldwin, what brought you to the March on Washington?
James Baldwin 2:20
I could say the fact that I was born a negro in this country, more concretely, I felt there was no way for me not to be involved with what impressed me has been the most significant, the most important, most loaded demonstration to free Americans that has ever happened in this country.
David Schoenbrun 2:42
Well we'll talk more about that later. But first, let's quickly get from each and every one of you. Mr. Brando, have you been on this road for a long time?
Marlon Brando 2:50
I don't know. There was a time when nobody was on the road, really. And it was time when Rosa Parks stood up on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. And from that date, the Montgomery Bus Boycott took place. And some were in the 50s 18 Negroes in a Georgia prison camp broke their leg with sledgehammers to bring attention to the condition that they were in. And slowly, bit by bit I became involved in this issue and I guess my Springboard was listening to Martin Luther King speak about the woe and distress in California.
David Schoenbrun 3:29
Joe Malkovich writer, producer, director.
Joseph Mankiewicz 3:34
Well, I've like all Americans, I've been involved in what I call human rights ever since I was born in this country. I think that what has happened to me recently is that I've become violently aware of the urgency of human rights in America now. The fact that this is an inalienable thing, and something that must exist if America is to exist in our images to exist and our moral fibers to exist. And this urgency and my awareness of it brought me here.
David Schoenbrun 4:10
I felt this sense of urgency myself, Mr. Poitier And I noticed today all day long, and all of the speeches and all of the placards, I saw the word or heard the word now now now repeated with insistency. Was it for you a case of urgency, and now or has this been something that you've been fighting for a long time?
Sidney Poitier 4:30
Well, the nature of my life over the last 36 years, has been such that an urgency the urgency that was evident today has been bubbling in me personally, for most of these years, at least most of the years, I came into adulthood. I became interested in civil rights struggle out of a necessity to survive. And I think my interest started many years ago, never as intensely however, as it exists today.
David Schoenbrun 4:58
How about a personal participation such as today's extraordinary participation, is this a rare experience for you?
Sidney Poitier 5:06
No, it is not a rare experience for me, I found having lived in New York and in other parts of America over the last 20 years, since I came from the Caribbean, I found it necessary for self protection and for to perpetuate my survival, that I involve myself in any activity that would ease my burden.
David Schoenbrun 5:30
And what was the involvement of Mr. Charlton Heston?
Charlton Heston 5:34
Two years ago, I picketed some restaurants in Oklahoma, but without one exception, up until very recently, like most Americans, I am expressed my support of civil rights largely by talking about it at cocktail parties, I'm afraid. But again, like most many Americans this summer, I could no longer pay only lip service to a cause that was so urgently right. And in a time, that is so urgently now.
David Schoenbrun 6:02
Mr. Belafonte many of us have felt I particularly as a reporter around the world, I've seen things happen in certain countries at a given moment, where what the French call a prise de conscience takes place a sudden awareness of the problem. I know, in your cases, hasn't been sudden, you've been very active in the civil rights movement, have you not?
Harry Belafonte 6:23
Yes I have
David Schoenbrun 6:24
Could you tell us a bit about your own role in civil rights?
Harry Belafonte 6:28
Well, civil rights are something that I inherited, at least the struggle for civil rights, I got it from my mother, and my father, and they got it from their mother and their fathers. And to be in Washington today was, for me an accumulation of a number of generations of black Americans who have been trying to appeal to the conscience, of white supremacy, and a superior force that has denied and disenfranchise the Negro for so long. And that to be in Washington, was for me today. A, a beginning, really a kind of a climax to generations of hope. And having been deeply immersed in the civil rights struggle, and having been at the beginning of so many important civil rights issues in this country and demonstrations. It was indeed, a powerful moment to see 200,000 people, mostly black people, but also white people, and to know that a nation such as America, and the reason that I struggle with it so hard, and I grapple with it so hard is because I really believe in the potential of this country. And this country has not realized its potential, it has not even begun to scratch its surface in the humanities. And because I do feel strongly about that potential. And because of the kind of Inheritance Inheritance I've had, it was necessary for me to be there today.
David Schoenbrun 8:00
Mr. Belafonte you are, I think one of the lieutenants of Martin Luther King, most respected leaders of movement. We all heard Mr. King say today that this was perhaps the greatest day for freedom in modern American history. Perhaps we could ask Mr. Brando to say, tell us what that means to him. Do you think then, if it's the greatest day for freedom, if this is the beginning of some tremendous change in our country? And if so, how do you see it developing?
Marlon Brando 8:32
Well, this is a revolution. Of course, it is sweeping our country now and that if it ends up properly, perhaps Indians will be given some of their land back that they have rightful claims on by treaty. Certainly, the benefit of all minorities, Jews, Filipinos, Chinese, negros, Hindustani Koreans, all people will benefit. Today was an unprecedented event in that it is the only time in history I believe, in America when to over 200,000 people have gathered to say, with one voice and with one spirit. One cause and I think that it's easy to oversimplify this problem. The problem seems to me a subtler one, and it has to do with hatred is true the Ovimbundu tribe which roamed from an area of I think Tanzania to Angola, was responsible for the acquisition of 15 million of their fellow negros citizens and sold them in the slavery. Certainly the cruelty that have gone on in between the white races will testify to this inherent anger that all men feel and no matter where you look Whether it's in Franco Spain, or Chiang Kai Shek government or in some of the South American countries, they the distress that you see in Haiti today gives evidence to the fact that we are all as human beings filled with anguish and hatred and fear. And I think that that is what we are expressly addressing ourselves here to today, here in this moment, I think it's one step closer to trying to understand the human heart to try to understand what is it that has produced this? What excuses that we give ourselves to give the expression to burning children with cattle prods and destroying people
David Schoenbrun 10:40
you know, as I listened to you, something strikes me and I'd like to throw this out for discussion or anybody who wants to answer it. You've mentioned a number of countries in which there have been oppressions and repressions and in which man has been hateful to his brother. And in which this anger expresses itself at a demonstration of one kind or the other. What strikes me is that almost I think all the countries you've mentioned are countries in the Western world, countries where we know about repression, and we were we have an opportunity to demonstrate against them as we've had in Washington, here today. This is not a really a flag waving question of mine. But I've been a foreign correspondent for a quarter of a century, all of you gentlemen have worked overseas. It does occur to me that demonstrations of this kind could not easily be held elsewhere. And when we talk about oppression and repression, I haven't seen any march on Moscow or march on Peking. And with all the faults that we have, and which we're trying to examine, wouldn't you agree, it's fair that the hope of our country is that we, we can have demonstrations of this kind?
Joseph Mankiewicz 11:47
Well I haven't remarked on it. On our way down this morning, I suddenly turned, I saw this fantastic preparation going on. And I found myself saying that this is wonderful. This is horrible. This is joyous. And this is depressing. That this is the only country in the Western world almost, I think in England could happen. I mean, possibly the whole world in which this could happen, a meeting like this, but it's also the only country in which it is necessary. This is this is the frustrating thing, that surely we don't have a meeting like this today in this country, but at the same time it is necessary in this country. You see what are the Well, the most important thing is that freedom, true freedom is not given by governments. And freedom is taken by the people. And the excitement of today, in my mind, is the fact that one out of every 1000 Americans was here in Washington, and that the people of America are becoming aware that this freedom to their fellow human beings, and I call them human rights, are theirs to give the civil rights bill is not as important as the fact that the people have freedom to give. And I think now we'll begin to get
David Schoenbrun 13:11
Mr. Heston was about to come in on this earlier you said very modestly and with considerable humility that until recently, you reserved your civil rights position for cocktail parties. That's low, low, no longer true. Would you expand on that for us?
Charlton Heston 13:27
I'm afraid I have very little to expand in terms of direct action be on my participation in the most moving events of today. But I would, to some extent, disagree at least as I understood with Joe's and Marlon's point. The prime thing I extracted from today's events was quite hopeful and stirring feeling of for the future and also a restatement of the principles on which this country was founded. Dr. King said most eloquently, that now seems finally to be the time when the the check which the Negro American has presented so often, and had returned to him marked insufficient funds may at last be on the verge of being cashable. And in terms of equality with his fellow Americans, but as an American, I am as stirred by the fact that this is true, as I am by whatever capacity I have to empathize with my Negro fellow citizens in their eloquent cry that it finally happened now, and I I cannot forget that. As you suggested, this is a country and a system of government. That was however tardy we are in extending freedom to all its citizens, we conceived the idea of freedom for all citizens under the law. And among the many eloquent things that were said today. James Baldwin has written as eloquently as anyone on on this subject, but most of the men who have written on civil rights and spoken on it, trace back what they speak about to the statements made by Lincoln, and Jefferson. And although the the end is not yet the as Harry suggested, this is perhaps the beginning. And the times ahead are just as, as difficult as the times behind although in a different way
David Schoenbrun 15:46
Where do we go from this beginning? The tremendous energy churned up here, of course, is a motivating force, but it's vague, it's diffuse, unless the plan of action cause causes people to really correct in fact, and not only in oratory, will this tremendous outburst now lead to a course of action Mr. Belafonte
Harry Belafonte 16:08
I feel that the now that we speak of is not a now that describes the success or fulfillment of the issues and the grievances the face the Negro people. The now is, is a statement that from here on in, there's a point of no return, that there is success, or there is utter failure. There is no middle of the line, there is no compromise on the issue. The now that is being spoken about is the fact that in 100 years, finally, through whatever the causes have been in history, and most of them have been because of oppression. The Negro people have strongly and fully taken the bit in their teeth, they're asking absolutely not quite often anyone, even the the hand that is extended in terms of, of brotherhood and friendship, to the white citizens who want to participate, it is for them to make the choice to accept, because they intend to move without it. And that, and I don't mean to say that the black community is not a community that does not have responsibility in this current revolution. But I do say that the bulk of the interpretation of whether this thing is going to end successfully and joyously or he's going to end disastrously lays very heavily with the white community, it leans very heavily with the profiteers, it leans very heavily with the vested interests, plays very heavily with a great middle stream, in this country, of people who have refused to commit themselves or even have the slightest knowledge that these things have been going on. And those who have decried demonstrations and who have said the negros going too far, they are the ones who in fact, are being provoked the most by this because for the first time, and it is only through our demonstrations, that they have come to a level of consciousness. And in this now that we speak of it is this point of no return, because we are on the march and there is going to be no retirement because the Martin Washington's days one day, but it doesn't end there. They're going to be marches again, and they're going to marches and the local villages and the the local cities. And in the and it's not just in the south, it's in the north, it's all over
David Schoenbrun 18:20
Mr. Baldwin, we heard Mr. Belafonte talking about point of no return. I've seen every head here nodding when he said that. He also mentioned responsibility. And I think that everybody has demonstrated that in Washington today. But Dr. King, who has fought in the name of non violence, love and brotherhood also talks about a dream he has we heard this eloquent statement of the great dream that even in in Alabama, we're going to accomplish this. You're not a prophet, you're a novelist, but novelist very often see into the future, do you share the dream view or you think it will be achieved?
James Baldwin 18:57
I think we will own this table. And many more people in that share that dream when Martin said that he he dreamed up a country in which his four children will not be penalized because of their color. All of us, all of us, please, I think we're all committed to that. One, what is perhaps paradoxical but as the American Negro in this context, who on the basis of evidence has more or less the most faith in this country? I myself always no matter how bitter I became, believed is how he puts it in the potential of this country is a tremendous energy. And the things that we can achieve, if we will be important to today, in my mind, is that for the first time in our history, and the first time in 100 years, the nation shows some signs of really dealing with its central problem instead of as it has done for 100 years, avoiding it, evading it, denying it, lying about it, pretending it did not exist, the country will have to now go to work, and very hard work, very dangerous work, to change itself to achieve this dream that Martin was talking about. And if you do not achieve this dream we have no future at all.
David Schoenbrun 20:02
Do you believe we will achieve it?
James Baldwin 20:04
I certainly believe it. I certainly
David Schoenbrun 20:06
In a nonviolent manner.
James Baldwin 20:06
But yes, I believe that too, but it is going to cost us. Every single one of us, including everyone here and everyone in this country
Harry Belafonte 20:13
I'm not quite certain it can be achieved without violence. Because the Negro people have conducted themselves nonviolently the 200,000 people that were there today, there were many predictions and one could take the book on whether there will be a display of violence by all the extreme factions and whatnot. But the truth of the matter is that the people who came to that gathering today were people in great anguish, who have come from the Birmingham's and come from the Jackson, Mississippi, and they came there with anguish, and with hurt, and with dignity and with integrity. And it was one of the most orderly displays I've ever seen of 200,000 Ordinary people with grievence. And if the bull cannas continue to release dogs, and the people as an answer to their legitimate cries, if they continue to use cattle rods to prod them, if they continue to use hoses to whip them through the streets, the human heart, and the human body can only contain so much, there must come a point if they're pushed to it for retaliation. So once again, I put the emphasis on who it is, that will precipitate because I do believe that the negro community, most I think that I can speak for, for for most of the 20 million Negroes are committed to this thing being done nonviolently, they have already displayed that they display the very eloquently since the Montgomery Bus strikes. And I also must say one other thing, because I know we must move on and others will speak. But when you speak of Peking, and you speak of Moscow, you speak of other centers in the world where a demonstration like today could not take place. Yes, I accept that. But I also say that it is long since past the time when we can measure our own conscience and our own sense of morality, based on what some decayed society refuses to give its own. We must, it is like arguing with the president administration as to what we feel, they did or did not do in relation to the civil rights struggle, because they were measuring it based on the previous developments
David Schoenbrun 22:19
Mr. Belafonte I could not agree with you more in terms of measuring in our society. But remember, the entire world watches this sort of thing. The world doesn't have a correct measuring stick. We all have lived around the world when I mentioned Moscow Peeking or any of these things. It is because here we are talking to the world, more than 100 countries will be listening to the discussion.
Harry Belafonte 22:39
I understand that I just want to make one statement to tie this off. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Incidentally, I said that in the beginning. But the point that I'm trying to make is that we are also the loudest crier of any nation, about democracy, and about the free country.
Joseph Mankiewicz 22:54
What we have been doing, The fact is, we've been letting the Negro have his dream, to go on dreaming. Well, the time has come, I think, and we've shown we've shown today to stop dreaming this dream and wake up to it. Because this dream was put into very precise words called the Declaration of Independence, it was restated as the Emancipation Proclamation. And in this past 100 years, the we have permitted the Negro to have his dream, a dream that was restated by Dr. King today. But Dr. King injected one new point, which is that perhaps, perhaps, and aroused American people can permit the rest of the American people to
David Schoenbrun 23:35
Mr Poitier came to this country, how old were you when you came to America?
Sidney Poitier 23:40
David Schoenbrun 23:40
You were 14 years old, you came to this country? What has been the evolution of your own thinking as you as you met this problem? And as you face it today, and what do you as a person not as an actor, or even, perhaps not even as a negro? But how do you feel inside of yourself? You are forced to participate?
Sidney Poitier 23:58
Well, yes, I am forced to participate, because it is my conviction that My country has to successfully negotiate the Negro question is, to me not a problem. It's the question of the Negro, the unsettled question of the Negro in America, we must as a country successfully negotiate that, before we can, with any degree of honesty try to become eligible for participation in the future. We must negotiate other great questions that face us today. And the stamina, the texture of our endeavor to solve the Negro question, will, will exemplify for me. The kind of interest the country as a whole has As in doing the things that are necessary for us to be entitled to a future.
David Schoenbrun 25:05
Mr. Heston you want to say?
Charlton Heston 25:06
Well, everything that we've been saying in the last few minutes illustrates vividly the the vital importance of this question not only for Negro Americans, but for all Americans and thus in view of our position in the world for all the world. And again, the importance of it. And the difficulty as both Harry and Jimmy Baldwin suggested that it's not an easy a downhill coast. The difficulty of the times ahead cannot be overemphasized. Again, I can't help thinking that it was never more eloquently put. Then Tom Paine put it riding in the winter of Valley Forge, and another difficult time for this country. When he said, These are the times that try men's so sunshine Patriot in the summer soldier will in this crisis shrink from the service of his country, but he that stands up now. We'll learn the love and thanks of man and woman.
Joseph Mankiewicz 26:03
That's why I think for the first time, why don't we sometimes refer to it as the white question?
David Schoenbrun 26:10
It's an American question.
Joseph Mankiewicz 26:12
It is the white question. And I think that's one of the things that's that is brought
Marlon Brando 26:16
It is a human question. Yes. Because the in the ebb and flow of human events, these things come and go conflict of this kind come and go, there is a renaissance of democratic spirit. The Negroes are giving us a lesson now that we have been that we've been waiting for. We've gotten a little stale, gotten a little fat.
Joseph Mankiewicz 26:34
I think they have made us aware of the white questions and then we've got to answer.
David Schoenbrun 26:39
I think you're both right really. It's a white question and a human question
Marlon Brando 26:44
There is always and ebb and flow. one country is up one country. One development is up...
Joseph Mankiewicz 26:51
No but to think of it Marlon is the Negro question was the Negro dream
Marlon Brando 26:55
I don't disagree with that
Joseph Mankiewicz 26:58
I think the responsibility has shifted. I don't think it's just a question of emantics I think the responsibility has shifted to the white people of America.
David Schoenbrun 27:09
Well, I think we may all agree we seem to be in agreement. That it's not a question of semantics, but that words often get in the way of what we mean to say. Mr. Poitier corrected himself when he said Negro Problem, and then he changed the to Negro question. He was weighing his words very carefully.
Sidney Poitier 27:28
Well, I think implied in Negro Problem is a kind of suggestion that I represent a problem, I do not represent a problem
Joseph Mankiewicz 27:37
The negros are not a problem to us, we are a to the Negros. This is the point. It is not it's not the same thing at all. And this is the this is what I have become aware of. I don't think so at all.
Harry Belafonte 27:48
Joe is very correct Correct. Because the person who holds in his hands, the power to fulfill the American dream, to fulfill the words of Tom Paine, to fulfill the words of the Declaration of Independence, happens to be a person who is white?
Charlton Heston 28:05
Yes but to imply it's solely a white problem is to is to deny the burning interest of every every fellow Negro citizen.
Sidney Poitier 28:17
It is, however,
David Schoenbrun 28:18
gentlemen, I think we're the cross talk is such that what you're saying, which I think everybody wants to hear, is being lost all of your words of wisdom, but maybe we can end it on this point. How would you phrase yourself very briefly now as succinctly as you can put the essence of your thought? What is the nature of this question today? What is the most important thing to be done? By each and every one of us? If you had the right to say, I James Baldwin will tell people what to do and how to solve this thing? What would you say?
James Baldwin 28:57
Oh my God.
Joseph Mankiewicz 28:59
Yeah, it's tough one
James Baldwin 29:00
In 3 words?
David Schoenbrun 29:01
not in three words, no single thing. For example, I happen to think just to give you an idea what I'm getting at that the most important thing at the moment now is jobs.
James Baldwin 29:09
That's quite true. But the nature of the problem is I see it is so complex, one can simply say jobs. When I say job, schools, houses, it's a whole complex of things, you know, jobs on jobs alone won't solve it schools alone won't solve it, but it's a, it's in the social fabric. You know,
David Schoenbrun 29:26
there isn't anything, it's everything.
James Baldwin 29:28
It's everything. And I really think to come back to Joe's point and another way, and at the risk of sounding mystical, the first step probably has to be somewhere in the American conscience, I think the American, the American white Republic has to ask itself, why it was necessary for them to invent the nigger. You know, I am not a nigger. You know, I've never called myself one. But you when it comes into the world and the world but the world decides that you are this for its own reasons, and it's very important. I think it's only American, in terms of in terms of future in terms of his health in terms of the transformation, we are all seeking, that he faced this question that he needed the nigger for something. You know
David Schoenbrun 30:08
May I please be forgiven for interrupting In fact, we have run out of time. But it's kind of a good point because what you've ended up with us and say we've all got to face the question. I think what we've done
you have just witnessed an unrehearsed discussion by those whose deeply held personal views have committed them to the cause of civil rights. The moderator has been David Schoenbrun.
Description: In this film, Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, Sidney Poitier, Joseph Mankiewicz, and James Baldwin talk about civil rights and the March on Washington, which took place on August 28, 1963. The discussion is moderated by David Schoenbrun.
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