tv Tavis Smiley PBS January 18, 2011 2:00pm-2:30pm PST
tavis: good evening from los angeles. first up tonight on the holiday honoring martin luther king, jr., a conversation with his longtime confidante, clarence b. jones, author of the new text "behind the dream." music icon stevie wonder is here on the 25th anniversary of the king holiday. wonder started an intensive lobbying campaign when then- president ronald reagan signed the holiday into law. author and attorney clarence b. jones and stevie wonder, coming up right now. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference -- >> thank you.
>> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment, one conversation at a time. >> nationwide is on your side >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org-- tavis: clarence b. jones served as a council and speechwriter for dr. martin luther king, jr.. he is not a scholar in residence at stanford's the milky research institute. his new book is called "behind the dream: the making of the
speech that transformed a nation." good to have you back on this program. >> thank you. tavis: what is it about this speech we seem to know everything about, have heard everything over and over again, that you can tell us? >> i think the most important thing i can tell you about this speech is that many people believe that this was -- that dr. king gave this speech as a prepared address from beginning to end. as a matter of fact, the part of the speech that has become such a celebrated part of history was totally spontaneous and extemporaneous. it was not something he had prepared for in advance. i was standing just a few feet behind him, and he was speaking. he was reading the prepared text of the speech, on which i was
proposed -- and proud to say i worked with him and provided some of the draft material. it was not just me but andy young, stanley levenson, and others who provided material. as he was speaking, jackson turned to him and said, "tell them about the dream, martin." mahalia was his favorite gospel singer. he paused a moment, took the prepared text, pushed it aside, grabbed the podium, looked over the crowd. i said to the person standing next to me, because i read his body language, "these people out there do not know it yet, but they are about to go to church." that is when he did "i have a dream." there are very few references to that. i was riding in a car, this is
coming to mind, in silicon valley. it was with carol, and she said to me, "i have this audio book, this ted kennedy book. you have been talking about this book you are working on, and in the audio book, ted kennedy says the same thing. have you read?" i went out and got the book that day and was amazed kennedy had confirmed the very thing i said. tavis: when you listen to the audio version of the tape of the speech, you can hear haley, i call her, mahalia, saying, "tell her about the -- tell them about the dream." there were others on the dais. none of them got to speak. there was sexism that even you
admit was in existence. no women could speak on the march at washington. the only woman that mounted the podium that day was mahalia, and only because she was singing. you know it is mahalia yelling, "tell them about the dream." >> using current technology, martin luther king, jr. could mentally cut and paste better than any individual i have ever known, on the spot. in other words, he could speak in real time, and as he was speaking in real time, he could draw from instances and power grabs and sentences from other speeches he had given, and he could insert them as he was talking in real time. that was not the first time he used the phrase "i have a dream." he used it earlier in a church. it was not the first time. but it is the first time he reconfigured it this way. when he used it in oklahoma, it
did not have that kind of reaction. tavis: there had to be something about what happened in detroit that gave him reason to believe that he could or should take mahalia's advice and make that you turn and start talking about the dream. he thought something was going to residents. >> that i do not know. he did. first of all, it was an extraordinary experience. it was an extraordinary experience for me and others who were sitting up there, looking at all those people out there. one other little vignette there is that while the proceedings were going on, a newspaper person came over to me, because there recognized i was dr. king's lawyer. they said, "we just got word that dr. do boys died in ghana. i think people should know about it -- dr. dubois died in gun a.
i think people should know about it." i grabbed a program and wrote a note and passed it to dr. king. i think roy made the announcement. tavis: serendipity is the wrong word, but i have always been stunned that the block, the first noted black intellectual in this -- that dubois, the first note to black intellectual in this country, got so fed up that he went to god and died in gun a. the announcement of his death was made live during the march on washington. what do you make of that moment? >> against it is serendipity. it was something symbolic, almost not political but spiritually symbolic. it was as if -- not that dr. dubois died.
but if there was going to be -- if he was going to pass and there was going to be a public acknowledgement of his passion, what better place for that acknowledgement to take place then an assemblage of the largest number of our african- american and white people in the country that had ever occurred up until that point? what better place than the march on washington? it was a march on washington for jobs and freedom. this was a march to get america to reclaim its conscience. that is what this march was about. there is something in the book which i talk about, a little background about who is going to be speaking before the actual speakers occur. there is a lot of background, especially about who is going to speak first. i can say it. there were some people who did not like -- who did not want
martin luther king to be the last speaker, for a combination of reasons that can best be described as ego. [laughter] north dakota. it had very little to do with politics. -- envy. it had very little to do with politics. the only thing that worked with randolph and others was talking to some of the other preachers and representative organizations. they asked a question, "you don't really want to follow dr. king, do you?" tavis: who would want to do that? >> i said, do you really want to follow him? i don't think so. >> as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the king holiday this year, with all due respect to all you have written about this particular speech, what is
the danger? i think there is a danger. what is the danger in defining king around this one speech? what is the danger in seeing him singularly as a dreamer? the see what i am saying? >> i do. clearly, this was a dimension, a political, spiritual, and oratorical dimension of martin king. it also had some substantive content. but it is like a beacon light of who he was. who he was consisted of his "letter from birmingham jail." it consisted of the speech he said to break the silence, opposition to the war in vietnam. he was his poor people's
campaign in washington. he was dealing with poverty. who he was was taking an implacable position, committed to nonviolent social change. his commitment to nonviolent civil disobedience -- it was not a tactic. it was something he deeply philosophical believe in because he was a student and scholar in addition to being a minister of the gospel. tavis: philip randolph -- the march on washington is the place where the "i have a dream "speech was delivered. randolph had called for that march 25 years earlier. it took all that time to get the march on washington. i believe that as victor hugo once said, there is nothing so
powerful as time. what do you make of the fact that they tried to do this for a couple of decades, but when it did happen martin was there, the time was right? if it had been 20 years earlier, king would not have spoken to the march. what the thing about the timing of when that march happened and that king was in that moment and able to make the "i have a dream "speech -- i have a dream" speech. >> it was where the country was at that time in 1963. a few months earlier, in april, they had birmingham. in birmingham, the country was faced with seeing on television the screams. it was on newspapers, water hoses, police dogs biting young african-american boys and girls
who were trying to peacefully demonstrate against cent -- against segregation. i also think there was something semi-divine, maybe. just remember, it was a philip randolph who was the titular chairman of this march. and one of the most poignant moments i remember of the march is after it was over, and there was a philip randolph standing there after dr. king had spoken and the crowd was beginning to move. and you could see tears coming down his face. and i thought, "oh my god, what it must have been for this man, for all the years and rose he
traveled, to see this happen." because this march in washington was really a reflection and a testament to him as much as anyone else in this country at the time. tavis: you mentioned at the pictures of these dogs being unleashed on these black babies, the water hoses being turned on these black babies. those pictures were streaming out to america prior to the march on washington. but lest we forget, and i will give you a chance to unpacked this for us, i think the sense that many people have is that martin king shows up in washington and makes a great speech, we passed the civil rights act, and it is all good, and a story. but when you look at the through line of black history, you get reminded that the 16th street baptist church bombing in birmingham happens after.
>> you know what i said to dr. king? you know what i said to dr. king when that bombing occurred on september 15, 1963? what i said to him -- that was a planned answer to the march. i was wondering what the response was going to be. >> not even a full month later. >> and of course the day after the march, there were some internal memos which we have now been able to see under the freedom of information act, in which the fbi sends a memo to john f. kennedy in which, in effect, they say, "as a result of what happened yesterday -- meaning the march on washington -- martin luther king is the most dangerous negro in america. and if we have not been able to do so before -- this is a
paraphrase -- he must be stopped. he is the most dangerous negro in america." tavis: that is what they say about him the day after the march on washington. >> that is correct. tavis: did dr. king think that, even though he went off script that day -- did he think that he had accomplished what he set out to do with whatever remarks he was going to give that day? was he comfortable and happy with what he accomplished in that moment? >> i think so. i think the practical answer to that question is that immediately after the march, the march leaders went to the white house. i was not with them, but i remember martin saying that the first thing president kennedy said was, "i have a dream." i think that he felt that the --
that the march had been successful, because it was the largest non-violent assembly of people that had ever taken place in the district of columbia. and it had had a powerful effect on the country and on the congress. and, i think, on the president. whether he felt -- clearly, he felt it was a success. clearly, he felt it has been -- had been a public delegation and celebration of the movement, a celebration of the goals and objectives of enabling america to reclaim its conscience. that is what his speech was about. this speech -- you notice in "i have a dream," it is all in the future tense.
he is speaking prophetically about a vision he had of america in the future. tavis: the new book, raising our consciousness, is called "behind the dream: the making of the speech that transformed a nation," written by dr. king's attorney, clarence b. jones. >> and my collaborators. tavis: as we mentioned, this is the 25th anniversary of the national holiday honoring dr. king. among the many high-profile people who fought for this historic milestone, stevie wonder. i asked the music icon to share his thoughts about this day and his role in its creation. >> i think more people are celebrating the king holiday, and that is a wonderful thing. but i think that, again, people have to get beyond that point. when dr. king was marching in
the various places for civil, social, and economic justice, it was not just dr. king, martin luther king jr., and black people. there were whites. there were people of various ethnicities there. the reality is it is about justice for everyone. and that is what encouraged and inspired me in those years that i would go and have the marches, and even before that, when it was a holiday in the state of michigan but not throughout the country. i just believe that he really represented the fabric of what this country and the constitution talks about. and i just think that, you know
, we can't just talk about it. we have to be about it. i think that -- don't think that i am perfect. i am not even going to take that. i am not. no one is. but as christians, we try to be. i am just saying. we all are working on trying to do the best we can do. but he represented to me that effort, that plight. i think that everywhere throughout the nation should close down and reflect and find out how and what they can do to make this country better, greater, stronger, more united. i think that is what we need to do. get beyond this color thing. [laughter] tavis: tell me anything you want
to tell me about the song, at the "happy birthday" song. you wrote the song. we first heard it in connection with celebrating dr. king's birthday and the holiday. now you cannot get three negro's together and know where on somebody's birthday without singing "happy birthday" the stevie wonder why. >> why are you saying just negros? [laughter] tavis: how did that come to you? >> is not just for african american people. it is for everyone. i am happy that everyone sings it. the way i came up with it is i tavis: you had a dream? >> i had a dream. i wrote a song. [laughter]
[plays clavier] you know what that is? tavis: lord yes. >> that song, "rocket love," and "happy birthday" were the two songs a road in my dream. i said to mrs. coretta scott king, "i hope i can some day due in march and put the song out to make dr. king's birthday a national holiday." she said, "i am very happy you feel that way, but i do not think it is going to happen with this administration." i said, "yes it will." tavis: these were the reagan years. >> i said, i believe it will because what can we do?
even if they saw it differently than i imagined it as being why, i felt that song would be sort of a calling message to everyone to hear the words and to look back and reflect on what his principles meant to them, and pull everyone together to sing it and celebrate. really, it is for the one this of all people. -- oneness of all people. we think of dr. king. we think of what he went through. i would hear his speeches and get emotional. i would cry. i am feeling this man. i was seven or eight years old hearing the speeches. wow, you know? i did not understand why there
were things happening to people that were black. they were people. i did not really get all that. i was 6. when i began to understand it was really people being in a place of fear. think about it. if africa was the beginning of all civilization, as we know it is, then everyone here is black. we are all related, you know? if it is someone white or whatever color, it is just a member of the family. that is the way i see it. tavis: stevie wonder with his thoughts on this 25th anniversary of the king holiday. king once said life's most urgent question is what are you doing for others. in that spirit, the king holiday is now known as a day of service around the country, when people come together to make the
community's a better place to live and work, a fitting way to honor the man i regard as the greatest american the world has ever seen. thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith. we all know everything thanks to martin luther king happy birthday to you happy birthday to you ♪ >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org tavis: join me next time from washington for the first of three nights when i look at the current and future state of america. see you then. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i am james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference --
>> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment, one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. >> be more.