*Tonight, on the eve of Wednesday’s 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, PBS airs the documentary, “The March,” a 360 degree look at the historic event - from sunup to sundown – that culminated in Dr. Martin Luther King delivering one of the greatest speeches in world history.
“There were some extraordinary bits of footage that I had no idea existed,” director John Akomfrah told the TCA Summer Press tour earlier this month in Beverly Hills. “For instance, you’ll see in the film three sets of home movies, and we started in January looking for those – movies made by people who attended the March.
He added, “I was surprised at the lack of material as well as the abundance. It’s an odd thing to say. But, a lot of the TV coverage has been lost, quite a bit has been trashed, frankly. And it surprises you because you think something that iconic an event would be preserved. But quite a lot hasn’t been preserved. The most important thing, though, for me was the people, you know, these folks, because they were much more valuable than any library.”
The “folks” referred to by Akomfrah and seated next to him on the TCA panel were all march participants who appear in the film: Clarence Jones, a lawyer, aide, and friend of Martin Luther King, Jr. who helped draft King’s “I Have a Dream” speech; Joyce Ladner, field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and a staff member for the March, working with Bayard Rustin; and Clayborne Carson, a history professor at Stanford University, founding director of Stanford’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute.
In promos, it appears as if CBS News correspondent Roger Mudd was apprehensive about the prospect of violence at the march, which had been reported by mainstream news organizations leading up to the event. But Mudd said it wasn’t potential riots that had him afraid.
“The fact was I was scared to death of failing. It was my first major assignment. I had been with CBS less than two years. I wasn’t very old. My ability to ad-lib had been untested,” he said. “The equipment we had was sort of slapped together at the last minute. None of us was sure it would work. And that’s why I was scared.”
Below, former King aide Clarence Jones explains the oft-told story of how a portion of the remarks he penned for King that day were abandoned by the civil rights leader when he began ad-libbing about having a dream — ad-libs that my not have happened had gospel legend Mahalia Jackson not yelled out to him, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” Listen below.
The hour-long “The March,” narrated by Denzel Washington airs on PBS Tuesday (Aug. 27) at 9 p.m. Watch clips below.