tv 1968 Poor Peoples Campaign Organizers CSPAN August 11, 2018 5:00pm-6:01pm EDT
>> this year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1968 poor people's campaign, which martin luther king junior in vision to shift the focus of the civil rights movement to economic issues. reverend king was assassinated a few weeks before the campaign got underway in washington, d.c. next, former staffer to robert f. kennedy, peter edelman, and student nonviolent coordinating committee founding member, bernard lafayette, sat down at the smithsonian national museum of african american history & culture to discuss the people behind the campaign and how it started. this is one hour . panel, it iscond my pleasure to welcome a dear friend and inspiration. after winning a peabody award and raising the confidence of audience for more than 24 years
as a talk show host, mark has become one of the most widely recognized and influential media figures in the maryland, d.c. area. hosted shows for public radio stations at john hopkins, weaa at morgan state university. it is a voice of the community. he is the president and ceo of theown production company, center for emerging media, which won a peabody award. by peter be joined edelman, the professor of law and public policy at georgetown law pretty teaches constitutional and poverty lot and directs the georgetown center on poverty and equality. was also a legislative aide for senator robert kennedy and was with cameor caminiti when they
up with the idea for approaching martin luther king junior about an anti-poverty movement, which would become the poor people's campaign. after the campaign, if i recall correctly, and may be marked and ask him, peter edelman married marion wright. the two married after the campaign and this year they are celebrating their 50th anniversary. [applause] >> mark and peter will be joined by another game changing history maker, dr. bernard lafayette. founders and the leaders of student nonviolence and coordinating committees national citizens. he was a creative freedom rider. associate and protege of dr. martin luther king. appointed him the
coordinator for the poor people's campaign. please join me in welcoming our next panel. [applause] >> good afternoon. audience: good afternoon. >> it is a pleasure to be here today. i thought what we would do today is take a journey to the past. but bring us up to this moment. because i think that part of what's important to me, is as we get older, those of us who are getting older. as elders, is to think about what happened in the 1960's, but where we are now. what does that reflection mean to us now? where is the society in relation to where we were, since we just
heard that the war on poverty is no longer necessary. sorry. [laughter] >> i want to go back to a little bit. get some root stories from both of you before we move into the rest of our conversation. and taking us back to 1960, to nashville to you being part of the american baptist college and what happened there with the sit-ins and what brought you into the freedom rides, give a sense of history for our audience. >> i'll say that -- yes, let me first of all say it's an honor to be here and to be with the -- be able to share this
platform and also the audience that's here. and i would like to also introduce my wife, kate lafayette from tuskegee, alabama. [applause] >> 49 years married. dr. lafayette: yes. november will be 49 years. [applause] dr. lafayette: the secret to long life is to do what your wife tells you to do. [laughter] >> amen. dr. lafayette: that's if you want to live long enough. going -- enough. [laughter] dr. lafayette: going back to 1960, i was a student at the american baptist college. it was such a strange coincidence that we all ended up in nashville at the same time. there was diane nash, jim babble, marian berry, john lewis, we all ended up at the same time.
and jim lawson came down to nashville and started training us in nonviolence and we focused specifically on the sit-in counters. and that's what the whole training was about, how do you desegregate the counters? it was actually not until 1960 that we actually had a sit in protest. we were testing and that's what we learned. you go down and sit in and you find out what the reaction would be. and then you come back to the church and you role play. have a little play. people are yelling at you and screaming at you and pulling you off the stools and stuff like that. it was only actually about a decade ago that i realized the purpose of that. that was to train your emotions.
it was like boot camp. getting you prepared, because sometimes you might want to do something. but you get into the situation and you lose it. that's what people say, i lost it. you know what did you lose? you lost control over yourself. so that was one of the things that we learned to do. is the first of all control yourself. and there are ways you can do that. that's what we did, we practiced controlling ourselves. so in extreme situations we had self-control and we realized if you can control yourself, you have the great possibility of controlling the situation. so that's what that training was all about. and that's what i do, by the way. that's what my whole life is devoted to, king nonviolence training all over the world. trying to get me to go to northern ireland right now, but
that sit in helped us, that's why we continued the freedom rides. once the freedom rides came to a halt because of the extreme violence, and it was extreme. you think about somebody burning you up on a bus. and they were holding the door so you couldn't get out. don't tell me the klu klux klan are ignorant. somebody who was holding the that plus could explode and the ku klux klan could have been killed. they said, let's get out of here. that's how they were saved. toi want to interrupt you give you a sense of that history as bernard comes back. if you think about it, this was 1960, freedom rides, i was in alabama when they tried to kill the people on that bus, and bernard lafayette and the students in nashville decided,
they were going to pick up the torch. they knew they could die. they could be hurt. but they did it and they took the freedom rides over and moved them ahead. and i think that's something that, you know, sometimes people who have been through that are a tad too modest to talk about putting their lives on the line, which is what you did and a lot of people did. so, it's really important to put that in context. [applause] mark: peter and i have talked over the last few months. you were in law school when this was going on. i haven't asked you this question. i'm going to ask you since we're up here. before we get to bobby kennedy and the period that kind of led to the poor people's campaign, so what about where you were in 1960, when you were a student
and watching the news about people like bernard lafayette and others on the freedom rides? prof. edelman: well, just that. i didn't get deeply involved in all of these things until i went to work for robert kennedy in 1964. so, i was finishing law school. certainly cheering on and understanding the courage and the importance of what bernard and others did, but i was on the -- on a -- on the way to being a lawyer. i clerked for a couple of judges. and the place where it begins to come together is because i ended up working in the justice department in the fall of 1963. and i was in the civil division but i did some work there that had to do with civil rights.
and, of course, we lost the president. that was -- i was in the kennedy administration, if you will. and the most important part about that personally was that because he decided to run for senate, i had the chance, fortunately, to go to work for him in the campaign. and then i worked for him. much of what i did was about civil rights and poverty and i worked for him until his death. mark: so, let me go to alabama again, bernard. build the story up to a place where we can talk about today and really kind of explore about that moment as we lead up to 1968. you -- after the freedom rides, you can talk about that if you
like, but end up working for the committee in the south -- working for the nonviolent coordinating committee in the south and you took up a job that nobody wanted. in georgia, in selma. i mean, the south, where people were afraid to actually take a certain position. talk about that moment, because when you went to organize in a place where -- where people were actually terrified to go. dr. lafayette: yes, it was a continuation, actually, from the sit-ins to the freedom rides where, again, freedom rides were stopped. but just one fine point i want to make. and that was the reason to why we continued the freedom rides. because doing the sit-ins in nashville in 1960, we desegregated the lunch counters downtown nashville. there were lunch counters at the
greyhound bus station. and guess what, we desegregated station innd bus 1960. we would go to virginia all the way down there on a greyhound bus. you got to nashville, you got off a segregated bus and went into an integrated bus station. so how are you going to desegregate the lunch counters and segregate the restrooms. so the whole bus station was desegregated. that's one of the reasons we continued the freedom rides because we already experienced the desegregation of the greyhound bus station's in nashville. we knew it could happen. that's part of it. you have success and you build upon that success, but you don't just depend upon success, you evaluate and you look at
shadow g. you have to understand why it happened. how it happened is more important than why it happened. so, we looked at what we did to make it happen. and as a lot of stories there in terms of nashville. but moving ahead to selma, alabama, once we did the freedom rides, we decided what we would do -- though we i am talking about would be jim apple and john lewis and, you know, diane nash. we decided what we would do is give our time now to snic, since we helped to form snic. we desegregated our lunch counters in nashville before snic was formed. when we went to raleigh, we already desegregated our lunch counters. that's why barry was the first
chairman of snic. he was a graduate student in chemistry. we decided we would take off from school now and spend two years giving our time as field secretaries. when i went down to get my job, my assignment, james foreman, ok, who was our executive secretary then for snic, said that what was needed more than anything else was somebody to go raise some money to get deion diamond out of jail in louisiana because they put him in jail and would only accept $10,000 cash bond. that's like $100,000 now, right?
we always made a pledge to each other in the movement that nobody would suffer alone. either we would help get you out of jail or we'll come and join you. so you didn't have to worry about, you know, being left alone, all right? we were with you. i said, okay, if fund-raising is what you need, i'll do it. they sent me to detroit. when i was in detroit, john conyers was there and some others who helped to raise money we had a mass meeting. the interesting note, which you should be aware of, diane nash was in jail in mississippi. and she refused to get out of jail and she was nine months pregnant. and all of us was begging her to get out. we couldn't find a way to get her out of jail.
you remember, it came out in the newspaper in "jet" magazine. she said any child born -- black child or colored child, in those days we called them negro child, born in mississippi is born in jail. you remember that? so she was going to have the baby in jail. and we had to figure out a way to get her out of that jail. [laughter] dr. lafayette: and we know women are very smart, so the fellas had to put their heads together. [laughter] and guess what? her father was from detroit. he was a dentist. very popular dentist in detroit. in fact, they used to call him the painless tooth doctor, because he didn't spare novocaine, you know what i mean? [laughter] dr. lafayette: his office was always lined up. people, you know, whether they
had a tooth ache or not. [laughter] so, i said,e: wouldn't it be great if the grandfather could be there when the baby was born? when it that be something? so let's tell diane that we need her to raise some money for deion diamond to get out of jail and if she would come and speak at the mass meeting, we would raise more money because her father was well known in detroit. so, we got the word down to diane. we said, diane, wouldn't it be great if you could help get deion diamond out of jail? that -- jail? that was the thing that caused her to want to get out of jail, to help somebody else get out of jail. [laughter] dr. lafayette: long story short -- i had to squeeze that in. we raised the money. there's more to it, but we won't go into that. bob zellner went down to visit
deion and they arrested them. that meant we had to raise $30,000. [laughter] dr. lafayette: you know what they charged him with? they were going down there to help black folks register to vote. louisiana laws are a little different. yeah, he knows about it. he's a lawyer. you know what they charged him with? because he was trying to get black folks registered to vote. the charge was conspiracy to overthrow the state of louisiana. [laughter] isn't thatte: something? anyway, when i went down to get my job after -- we went on to chicago, introduced the freedom singers and raised money in chicago and that kind of thing, harry bellefonte helped us out and provided all of -- the venue. anyway, so i went back to get my job, my assignment, and james foreman told me that there were no more assignments. i said, what do you mean no more
directorships? you told me if i went and raised the money, i would be able to get one of these assignments as director of photo registration. bill hansen was in arkansas. baba mississippi, charles in southwest georgia, and i looked on the map and they had an "x" through selma. an "x." they said, we're not going to selma, dallas county. i said, what do you mean you are not going there? they said, we sent two teams of snic workers and they came back with the same report. you can't accomplish anything in selma, alabama. and they gave the same reason, white folks too mean and black folks too scarred. they were scarred, ok? yeah.
so, we're not going to selma. so i kept stomping behind him, you promised me you were giving me a directorship. he says, you can be assistant director to bob moses. i said, i'm 22 years old, i don't want to be an assistant director. [laughter] dr. lafayette: i said, if i want to be an assistant director, i'll go get married. [laughter] dr. lafayette: he said, you want to take a look at it? i said, -- it? i said, no, i'll take it. i don't want to take a look at selma. i'll take it. i wrote a book on selma it's called " "my peace and journey," if you really want to know how selma got started, it's "in
peace and freedom, my journey in selma". mark: so, i want to move us up to the moment of the poor people's campaign and up to today. because we're taking audience questions, art we? yes, we are. just checking. i'm going to take it back up to the -- the roots of where the campaign are and the role the two of you played because it was an amazing moment. i used to work in resurrection city, not as a leader. you two were there at the beginning. peter, the story i -- you told, the first times we had this conversation about the poor people's campaign is a story i never really heard about how you and bobby kennedy went down south, how you met marian wright, who later became your wife, who was this incredibly powerful, charismatic lawyer in the civil rights movement.
but then the -- tell a little about that and what -- how you ended up having breakfast, lunch, whatever it was, with bobby kennedy. which is where some of the idea generated. tell a little about that story. prof. edelman: i think i need to start kind of -- lay the groundwork. mark: whatever you like. okay. prof. edelman: beca\use when we -- beca\use when we talk about all the things the movement did at such great risk, the point was to get laws passed that would change the landscape. it's all back and forth. just because you have a law, doesn't mean everything is wonderful the next day. but the 1964 act, which was about public accommodations and employment, was the beginning. it would not have happened.
you were back and forth. certainly dr. king and others were pushing very hard on robert kennedy as the attorney general and ultimately they got a bill to be sent up in 1963 and then after we lost president kennedy, it was enacted. so, this is a back and forth. this is aid very intersectional thing that takes place. president johnson, of course, said he needed the movement to push at him, which of course they were doing anyway. but all of those things that were done through the civil rights movement would have not come to anything if you didn't have the -- finally, not necessarily for the -- many people not so enthusiastic about
it, but doing it. of course, this is where in terms of my involvement of this, having gone to work for robert kennedy, one of the first things that i worked on was the 1965 voting rights act. and so this in my small way, it's the three-dimensional process that has to take place to make these things happen and i had a chance to have a modest role in that. the other thing i would just put out there, as we get into talking about mississippi and robert kennedy, was that when he had lost his brother and had to find out a way that was his own
, and this is the part which i'm personally involved, it turns out on the domestic side there were things international as well, but they were the same thing. south africa, so on. but his major issues from the day he was sworn in as senator in 1965, and i was there, was about race and it was about poverty. and in terms of my life, because i had the chance to be the person who staffed him on those issues, we went to see -- met cesar chavez in 1966 because of the interest robert kennedy had in that and help to be supportive of having a -- finally, it would be the first farm worker union we'd ever had in the united states.
and so there was a whole enormous part of his day, of robert kennedy's day, was about these issues. in 1967 the war on poverty, technically the economic opportunity act, was up to be reauthorized. the congress kept it on a very short string. and it had to be enacted every year or two. and so there were people who weren't enthusiastic about it. and some of them were people who were public officials, other kinds of things. so kennedy was on the subcommittee that worked on these things. and we went all over the country, and i went with him, and all of these things, i might say parenthetically, when we lost him, really turns out who i am is because of that work and,
of course, because i met marian along the way, too. not irrelevant. so, we had been to chicago and there was mayor daley, who wasn't enthusiastic. mark: really? prof. edelman: yeah, i didn't know if you knew. and indian reservations and the work he did in brooklyn, all of these things, so in the spring of 1967, where we were having these hearings, the subcommittee decided that it should go to mississippi. this very much connects because what was there was the cdgm, which was the largest headstart organization in the country. 21 counties. the reason it was there and was
a nonprofit, independent, was because the state wouldn't take the money. the law said if the state won't take the money, the federal government can find a nonprofit and award them. so, the child development group of mississippi, cdgm gets set up. these are all civil rights people who are doing the teaching there. and it really annoyed the power structure. and so they took it upon themselves to destroy cdgm, as we now say fake facts, saying that there had been stealing, so on, so on. we went down there to talk about who to give marian -- in addition to being the first black woman who was in -- ever a lawyer in mississippi and was
the -- for the legal defense fund there in mississippi, she was also the general counsel of cdgm. so, she was asked to be a >> she talks about the and then, she talks about the fact that families,children, and mississippi very close to starvation. very significant malnutrition. awful. so we went and changed the plan andwhen of the mississippi saw these families. it, it isa reason for a longer story but essentially, the cotton industry, the plantations had planned -- changed their way of working and they did not need the workers anymore.
the were able to get harvest with machines. this connects to the campaign because what we saw there of his valleys withhe sores on their arms that did not get any better. robert kennedy came home that ,ight and said to his children he said to me as we walked from one host to another that he has never seen anything like that in the third world. shocking., it was covered bybs, it was
robert kennedy in mississippi. -- cbs and said it was on national television that i -- night. all thely shouldn't go details but he started an effort in many ways to get a response in the country. -- lead too president nixon sending a bill pending food stamps we have today. the place where that starts is only had,rion and i
marion would come up to washington to see me and i would go down to washington -- mississippi and robert kennedy loved her. it was a real friendship. town, i when she was in called and said, marion is here would you like to see her? he said to come out for lunch. we are at this point in the fall 67, seeing the children who are so hungry in the spring, thinking it was all tied together. kennedy said to marion, what is dr. king doing, what are you doing?
she said i am going down to withta, i have a meeting dr. king and my colleagues there and they are trying to figure out what to do next. him, theynedy says to should bring people to washington and have them stay the here in washington do what they are supposed to do. that is where the port. ople'sgn -- poor pe campaign came from. because we are on a schedule, let's do it -- asked the audience now. do you have a question?
i am being told to take just three or four questions. who is going first? >> good afternoon and take you for coming today. the conversation has been quite interesting. in 1960,elled to ask, 50 5% of african americans were living below the poverty line, why did we sit -- start with economicrather than opportunity efforts? behinduld the thinking integrating other social sectors that would allow black people to
earn more money? >> that is a very good question. it is important to understand, only what happened but why it happened. if we are not respected enough to go in and sit down and have a hamburger, you certainly, would get arespected enough to serious loan to start your business. -- sita of the citizens in's was not just because we could not, we had other places to eat, in fact, we had better places to eat. [laughter] now but i washe
glad they did not serve some of the food. 1 [laughter] >> the truth of the matter is that we went to the church and had lunch. people provided that for us. the reverend in nashville. he was one of those that helped to provide resources for us. it was not about eating at the lunch counter, whose about why they could not at the lunch counter. because we were black. is, therehe matter were some black people that could be at the counter but they could because they were passive.
look at the to audience. 1 [laughter] tell -- won't tell d on't worryy. [laughter] >> the issue was based on menu.ples here, not the it was my. -- why. the mayor created a biracial committee and a biracial committee consisted of black and white people. in fact, the president was on us committee and they told the student leaders in , we have, they said
look away,t need to we need to find out what they came up with. one and hearne by their proposal, say thank you, i will get back with the -- you. disagree,o agree or just listen to the proposal. byl they did was go in one one. you know what they propose to us? it is not even in the books. said, hypothetically, we have 30 at the counter and we want something for everybody.
the little conceits being integrated, the last seat over there, the black person may have to end up sitting next to a white person. a chance to see it, they consider where they want to. that is why they came up with nashvillelle -- truth. the came up with the end question is, why we did not accept it? it was change. we said, no. understand ando compromising his never compromising principles. [applause] principal is that you
in's were one part of a march -- much larger strategy. remember the march was about jobs as well as the other issues of civil rights. when you look at the larger results of what the civil rights how did you get the 55 down to 32%? it has to do with the economy being pretty good but remember of 1964 act was hardly making it illegal to engage in discrimination. on over theeffect country and especially, in cities where we were having to have african american mayors in the power of change in the result of that was african
americans, middle-class jobs. heavily, and the public sector. that is all related to the civil ledts movement did and it decreasery impressive in poverty for african-americans. >> we are talking about breaking the back of legal segregation it was also a time of absolute terror for black folks in the south. broken why it had to be anything else to move ahead. terms of today, with the consistent onset of artificial
intelligence and outsourced labor what are your suggestions to make sure that industries and employers are held accountable to create safe platforms to opportunities particularly, for african-americans. how can we load insight to cause widespreadpt the outspending and outsourcing of labor? >> we have a serious problem in our country don't we? , it is not just a question of the 40 million people who are in poverty, it is inlly the 100 million people
the second level of poverty which are all of those jobs that -- do not pay enough. where poverty is 40%. it is not just people of color. you have the effects of technology making another hit. we have to have a national discussion. we have all kinds of things that we need to have done. whether it is infrastructure, taking care of children and the elderly, whether it is the building housing, green energy. if we would invest in the things that need to be done in our is an enormous change in the way the government.
efforts them enormous but it comes to whether we have a politics or the implications for a future. the politics that would give us that commitment to give us the kinds of jobs we need to have. people of all races. back toe bring you follow up on this question. we think about the book's 1968 and what -- where the event, people do not realize that the demands are really far reaching. an equalalking about income. we were talking about 500 houses down built and slums pink
-- slums pink and rebuilt for the community. 2018 and we are in a place now only have they been close to full employment latestl employment with that people can't survive on. the administration talk about the war on poverty ending because it is no longer needed. as people have been if for a long time, politically, and in our country, as elders, from then, to now, what do you see? about is my talked biggest fears could be that we on the cusp of 1967, when
they did take it back. postrtin luther king was a renaissance thinker. if you want to look at the whole of any particular part, you have to look at a broader contact -- context looking at the events happening today, he must put that in the historical context. itself.ple, history to you have heard that.
we talked about it during the reconstruction. the question is whether we go that are actively go back. you take means that away everything that you have gained. back in terms of history, means you have done many other things that you thought you have gained and that is why lucy that racism races its ugly head because it away. -- back.o the fact. it didn't go out, it went to the site. the reason we have those
expressions today is because they are coming. means it goes in a circle. backwards.k but not as a circle, it will continue. pick up some things and lose others. the question is, how large is that circle? depends on how long legal benefits -- we go backwards. graphics to show you what i mean. i live in alabama. celebrate martin luther king's birthday. guess who's birthday is at the same time? robert e lee.
the white folks have been celebrating robert e lee. you think you are celebrating martin luther king's birthday? they are actually sending out applications for the flex client in high school and churches -- klan in high school and churches. the question is: how do you respond to it? larger it in this context of history, there is no ministry. it is when you do not know your history, it becomes a mystery. we have seen this before. what is our solution?
what is our approach? not have enough involvement of young people. of youngwere made people. look at the permitting him birmingham- movement, the call it thank you called it thee youth movement. we have to do is get the young people involved. one of the things you do is legislator pages 12-17. get those young people together to him to elect officials
replicate the very state elections that we have. partyat you call a youth and every month, you have a party and bring footer registration forms. forms.r registration monthing a meeting once a and having a party, have you bringgood to eat, a representative and and have them talk about the bills they are considering in the legislature. by the way, did you hear what i said? bills.--
things that they won't be voting on. that is the only thing they are doing is probably -- is voting on bills. young people need to start getting involved in the next thing you do is give them a block in their own neighborhood people can make sure they all get out to vote. the juveniles who are in the facilities, they can participate. why i think we do not have enough time. do not give up. listen to me, this will not last long. going, youngs are can always go backwards and
then, we start stepping on other folks toes who are behind us. that is what is happening right now. that is why you are seeing the reaction going on. just take my word for it. it will not last long. that is because folks will be taking action. you know what group i am talking about? the women. [applause] ask joanne to down in birmingham, alabama. they had meetings to decide whether they were going to .ontinue the meeting
we continue our women in congress piece. >> we were pretty much all alike because one time we were together in some of the old women who had been here before, and i haveng a nice to go to the other said, you do that to? we all realized is that took our work home at night and worked. that is really what happened. sometimes, in the afternoon, they go to a matinee of we are working all the time. ahead, we will hear from barbara canales, nancy history,watch oral
eastern on10 a.m. c-span3. war, theon the civil anova history professor talks about union soldiers and pornography. she is the author of the book sex and the civil war. gettysburg civil war college institute. some viewers may find images in this program offensive. >> good morning everyone. my name is peter carmichael, i am the director of the civil war institute here at gettysburg college. i am also a member of the history department. our opening lecture will be delivered by ginsburg.