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Stanley Levison

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Stanley David Levison
Stanley Levison.jpg
Born(1912-05-02)May 2, 1912
DiedSeptember 12, 1979(1979-09-12) (aged 67)
Alma materSt. John's University
University of Michigan
OccupationBusinessman, lawyer
Known forMarch on Washington

Stanley David Levison (May 2, 1912 – September 12, 1979) was an American businessman and lawyer who became a lifelong activist in progressive causes. He is best known as an advisor to, and close friend of Martin Luther King Jr., for whom he helped write speeches, raise funds, and organize events.

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  • ✪ Writers and Scholars Roundtable on Civil Rights


> > Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. We still have people coming down that are going to want to get in the theatre, so if you have empty seats, in the middle of the theatre, if you could just please take up the empty seats in between so we leave the sides of the theatre free for any people coming in now and perhaps after the program has started. Thank you very much. >> Good evening. I'm David Ferriero, the archivist of the United States, and it's a pleasure to welcome you this evening to the William G. McGowan Theater here at the National Archives. And welcome to those of you who are joining us on our YouTube station. Tonight's Writers and Scholars Roundtable on Civil Rights will examine untold stories and heroes of the civil rights movement. We're especially pleased to be able to present this discussion this year on the 50th anniversary of the passage of the voting rights act. And if you come back to the National Archives between July 31st and September 15th, you'll be able to see the actual voting rights on display in our exhibit housed upstairs in the David Rubenstein Gallery. I would like to thank the partners on the program, the March on Washington Film Festival and extend a special welcome to the distinguished group of writers and scholars assembled for tonight's discussion. Moderator and journalist and author A'Lelia Bundles, who is the chair of the National Archives Foundation. Clarence Jones, advisor to Martin Luther King, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, who will deliver closing remarks after the discussion, and Pulitzer Prize winning author Gilbert King, who will be honored with the achievement award this year. [Applause]. This award recognizes his lifelong work of the life of Dr. King and the history of the civil rights movement in his landmark series, America and the king years. Before we begin the program I would like to tell you about two upcoming programs that will take place in the theatre on Wednesday July 22nd at noon we welcome author as he discusses the slave rebellion in American history, the basis of his new book, The Creole Affair: The Slave Rebellion That Led the U.S. and Great Britain to the Brink of War. And on Wednesday July 29th at noon we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the passage of Americans with Disabilities Act with a lecture by Lennard Davis, author of Enabling Acts: The Hidden Story of How the Americans with Disabilities Act Gave the Largest U.S. Minority Its Rights. By the way, the original Americans with disability act is currently on display in the Records of Rights exhibit upstairs. To learn more about these and all our programs and exhibits, consult our program calendar of events. There are copies in the lobby as well as sign-up sheets where you can receive it in regular mail or by email. Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The foundation supports all of the work of our agency, education and outreach programs, and there are applications for membership in the lobby. And the little known secret I keep telling everyone, no one has ever been turned down for membership in the Foundation. [Laughter ] As I said we're presenting tonight's program in partnership with the 2015 March on the Washington Film Festival and welcome them back after hosting two programs at last year's festival. Now to tell you more about the festival, it's my pleasure to turn the program over to the producer on the March on Washington Film Festival, also creativity for her own company during age of productions. Prior to that she was vice president of programs for women's economic independence and vice president of corporate affairs for Sony Music. [Applause] >> I had the great pleasure to spend time in Australia with aboriginal people in if Catherine area and they do something I would Luke to repeat now. In fact, all Australians do now. I rise to give praise to the limitless possibilities from which all life springs and the seven directions, north, south, east and west, above, below and within, and the cycle of life acknowledged by African ancestry people everywhere, those who have gone on before, ancestors, those living and those yet to be born. We are because they were. They will be because we are. Welcome to the March on Washington Film Festival presented by the Raben Group and founded by Robert Raben. Our mission is to unearth the little known stories and events of the civil rights era, which we consider one of the America's second revolution. As you see we do this through performing arts, scholarships, first person narratives and, of course, film. So we're very happy to be here at the National Archives again, and thank you to David and to Tom. Tonight our writers and scholars roundtable. So as I was thinking about how to welcome you all, I thought about how important writing has been to humanity. So from cave drawings to the meta-natural or hieroglyphics in Egypt, from Moses and the tablet and Mohammad being instructed to write, from Omar Khayyam poem, writing is an intrinsic part of our human development, and tonight we are going to hear from some masters of the pen. So you heard a bit about the order of things to come, and we have given you index cards, so during the panel discussion, if you have questions, please write them down, and at the appointed time we will ask for your cards to be passed to the aisle. But first, because it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing, I'm delighted to present Howard University's award winning jazz ensemble, Afro Blue. [Applause] >> Thank you, thank you, thank you so very much. Thank you all for having us. We are so excited to be here, and this is not a first time for Afro Blue to be in this very room. We're excited to be back. We have John, Devin, Matthew and my name is Imani, and we are a small section of Howard University's Afro Blue. We were so excited we couldn't turn you down. That was "this can't be love." We sing songs that reflect the big band and from the a capella range. This next song is a Take Six arrangement of "He Never Sleeps." Hope you enjoy. He never sleeps he never slumbers he watches me both night and day He never sleeps he never slumbers I know he told me so he never sleeps I know that he's watching he told me so he never sleeps he never slumbers, he watches me both night and day he never sleeps he never slumbers he told me... ... so he never sleeps he never slumbers he watches me both night and day and night and day he never sleeps he never slumbers Ooohhh the reason I know he told me so he told me so... [Applause] >> Thank you all so much. Again, we are a small section of Afro Blue from Howard University and we just want to do this last song in honor of the entire festival, and it's "What it's About," so we want to do this last song "Lift Every Voice and Sing." lift every voice and sing till earth and heaven ring ring with the harmonies of Liberty let our rejoicing rise high as the list'ning skies let it resound loud as the rolling sea Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us facing the rising sun of our new day begun let us march on till victory is won stony the road we trod bitter the chast'ning rod felt in the days when hope unborn had died yet with a steady beat have not our weary feet Come to the place for which our fathers sighed? ooohh we have come over a way that with tears has been watered we have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered out from the gloomy past till now we stand at last where the white gleam of our bright star... ... is cast ... is cast [Applause] >> The nation is in trouble. What is the answer? The answer is vigorous law enforecment. Justice is nearly an incidental to law and order. >> The land of the free and the home of the brave. >> I read that in "The New York Times" this morning and I'm sure they're always accurate. >> Our moderator tonight is a woman who traces her lineage to one of our country's true business successes, Madam C. J. Walker, a veteran network broadcaster and author, and a member of the National Archives board among other august bodies and a great friend to the March on Washington Film Festival from its inception and we cherish her. A'Lelia Bundles, and she will introduce the rest of our panel. [Applause] >> A'Lelia Bundles: Thank you, Isaiah. Thank you, Isaiah and good evening, everybody, welcome to the William G. McGowan Theater. We are fortunate to have such an extraordinary panel and I think you should just come up and have a seat. On this second evening of the third annual March on Washington Film Festival, we have three Pulitzer Prize winners, as David Ferriero told you and a confidante of Martin Luther King. My congratulations to the festival founders, Robert Raben and the Raben Group, along with Sharon, Michele, Norris, Isisara Bey and others who saw the need and implemented the vision. I welcome you on behalf of the National Archives and the National Archives Foundation, and I encourage you to come back to the National Archives. Some of you may have come as children and you've seen the Declaration of Independence but you haven't seen all the other wonderful exhibitions that are here now, including the Records of Rights gallery, the David Rubenstein Gallery on the first floor where all the people who aren't on that picture in the rotunda who weren't in the room 1776 are represented with several women's rights and immigration, and you can see those original documents. We welcome you back and encourage you to find out about other programs at And now it is my pleasure first to introduce Dr. Clarence Jones, personal attorney and advisor to Dr. King, whose Behind the Dream recounts the story of the making of what has come to be known as the "I have a dream" speech. Less well known is the person who secretly brought out those pages folded up in his pocket that became Dr. King's powerful letter from a Birmingham jail. There is so much more to say about him, but let me just add that he was the first black partner in a Wall Street investment bank and that he played a key role in "The New York Times" Supreme Court case. Today he is a visiting professor at the University of San Francisco and a scholar writer in residence at Stanford University. Taylor Branch is best known for his landmark narrative history of the civil rights era, America and the King years. The first book "Parting the Waters: America in the King Years" won the Pulitzer Prize. Decades later all three books remain in demand and as said earlier he will be our records of achievement honoree in October here at the National Archives. Gilbert King on the end is the author of "The New York Times" best-seller, "Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, The Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America," which was awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. He is an accomplished photographer and has written about the Supreme Court and the death penalty for "The New York Times" and The Washington Post. He earlier book, The Execution of Willie Francis, Race, Murder and Justice in the American South was published in 2008. Diane McWhorter, I guess you can tell who Diane is, is a journalist in New York City and author of "Carry Me Home," history of civil rights revolution in her hometown of Birmingham,Alabama. She won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2002. A Dream of Freedom was one of nine notable children's books of 2004. Later, after the panel,Michael Eric Dyson will offer remarks on the panel's comments. He is a professor of sociology at Georgetown University and his book topics range from Dr. King and Malcolm X to Bill Cosby and the policy of hip hop. He is a "New York Times" contributing writer and NBC political analyst who appeared on meet the press, Face the Nation and many other news programs. And now the questions begin. >> You know the challenge with a panel like this is that every one of them could be a keynote speaker and we would be able to sit here all night. But let me just start by creating a little context. We talked a bit about they all write history, they've all done incredible research. They all know a lot of things about current events, but we were thinking that we don't know our history well enough, and the brilliance of having an annual March on Washington Film Festival is it gives a chance to reexamine some of the key moments of the civil rights era of 1950s and '60s and honestly most Americans should know these things, think they know these things and don't really know these things. The films in the film festival can get the conversation going. But panels like this allow us to dig a little more deeply. We are able to connect with things and debates of the civil rights movement to today's headlines. Twitter feeds and Facebook posts take the place of Jet magazine and the Pittsburgh Courier. It all feels a little too much like deja~vu, but we are at an interesting moment and it seems clear the history we learn in school shapes the way we think of ourselves, the way we think of America and the way we treat our fellow citizens. Even in 2015 we are debating the cause of the civil war. And in some states the civil rights movement is all but absent from textbooks. So I would like to ask our panelists, what is missing from our textbooks and the way the civil rights movement is taught and what are the consequences of these things missing? Each of you tells a different story. Taylor, do you want to start? >> Taylor Branch: Well, I would say what is missing is that history is being phased out of schools because we test on math and reading. I go around and talk to high school history teachers and they say if they're any good, they're getting moved. So history itself is being phased out, which is the only way we learn about citizenship. We have a unique story "we the people" that is our history and teaches us how to be citizens and it's being phased out. That's a huge danger. As it relates to race specifically, our history has never taught the centrality of race as the key barometer how well we're doing with the American experiment. If you don't have race at the forefront of an investigation of how America is fulfilling its goals, then something is wrong, and unfortunately right now we're paying the price for 50 years of trying to avoid and hide that subject. [Applause] >> A'Lelia Bundles: Dr. Jones is doing something to try to remedy that. >> Clarence Jones: One of the things that I think is the principal that is missing in the teaching of high schools is definitive discussion and description of the institution of slavery. And the supporting ideology of white supremacy. And I say that because it is the institution of slavery and the doctrine of white supremacy that has historically affected all political institutions in our country. And has had a consequential impact on culture, literature, politics you name it, on subsequent generations, so much that if you don't understand the workings of that institution -- I'm not talking about African American history courses. Make sure I'm not talking about a course in African American history. I'm talking about a course that looks at up close and personal how the operation of the institution of slavery works, and the consequential facts of that institution on subsequent generations of grandsons and granddaughters of slave and slave owners. [Applause] >> So I recognize one of the challenges of teaching this when my daughter, who was in kindergarten at the time was -- they were celebrating the Martin Luther King national holiday, and we were talking about King, and she finally looked at me and said, mom, why do you keep calling him King, when his last name is junior? [Laughter ] So the children learn about this topic at such an early age that there is kind of a dilemma about how to teach it, and I remember going to her first-grade class, she brought home a scholastic news for the King holiday that said that King was somebody who taught people how to stop an argument without fighting. And it referred to segregations of people who disagreed with him. And so I kind of marched into the class to tell them what segregation was, but then I started feeling kind of bad about -- especially with the children of color in the room, but talking about certain things, about how blacks were discriminated against and what the segregationists actually did and thought maybe this was a conversation that the parents might want to have with them. So I understand the difficulty, so we settle on things apart and things that are more palpable and wonder if we should have a rating system, you know, kind of like PG and R, mysogynization is R, to kind of ease people into it. I think that's one problem, we get on to kind of superficial and uplifting stories. The other thing is that the topic, as we all know, it's just so difficult and you have to know it so well to be able to really teach it, and remember, for example, when I tell kids and teachers, they are stunned when I make some -- to me elementary observation that the black middle class really did not support the civil rights movement. People are just stunned by that. Unless you really know that through scholarship and through being seasoned in the topic, it's just really hard to teach it in any kind of real way. >> I would just sort of build on what you just said. I think teaching a more honest way of looking at what was really happening in America, I think that's one of the things I notice. Behind the scenes you see iconic images of the Jim Crow south, separate water fountains and entrances, and I think the effect it has is to whitewash history. It makes it look like things for African Americans were rude and impolite, and the words I would use to describe it is brutality and terrorism, and I think to have an honest discussion with that, even with younger students, I think it is important. You know, one of the stories I tell people is in 1946 you had -- after World War II, you had more than 800,000 African Americans come back from the war o. There were soldiers who experienced greater freedoms in Europe and many had to come back to the Jim Crow south and slip quietly back into that second class citizenship. And it was early days of protest. Many didn't appreciate that and wore their uniforms as a silent protest. And what happens in the summer of 1946 there was a wave of soldier lynchings across the south, so African Americans in their uniforms being killed because that was seen as uppity. What they're saying, I put my life on the line for the country, I want better treatment. So I think it's important to put those images, those iconic images of the separate water fountains in to some kind of context because it was more than rude. It was more than impolite. >> All of what has been described eloquently and adequately, all of what has been described is a derivative of the consequence of slavery and doctrine of white supremacy. Listen to me. America -- there's probably no more issue that's fought with hypocrisy today in our country other than maybe sex, I don't know. [Laughter ] But the issue of race in America. How can you understand the American experience of how we react to one another today, of how those things you just described -- well, the reaction of soldiers coming home from the second world war, the reaction to their uniform is they wanted to be -- the people recognized power based on white supremacy, wanted to understand to put you in your place. They wanted to be sure there were no symbols whatsoever that would challenge their authority. Until we deal with that, I with all due respect -- that's going to stay with us. I mean, I'm very pleased, for example, to see that the 44th president of the United States can also deal with the tolerant and grace of forgiveness, which is a central part of the African American experience. I thought I had died and went to heaven when I saw the brother singing Amazing Grace. [Laughter ] Anyway, I'll keep... >> No, listen, as I say, everyone on this panel can do a keynote. Everybody has a story. But all of the books that you've written and the life experience that you've had, Dr. Jones, gets down to the nitty-gritty. We do the Rosa sat so Martin could march so Obama could run. So it's an uplifting thing, but it's not the nitty-gritty of what went on. And everything that is in your book tells these stories that people seem to want to deny exist. What is that about? You've written this. You've talked to audiences and they would just as soon, like, put the windshield wiper and have it not happen. >> Clarence Jones: Well, my books are fat. [Laughter ] Because they're born out of the theory that we don't learn across cultural boundaries by abstraction and analysis. We learn when things are so personal that we forget all of our little labels that we put on everything for a minute. Or at least that's been my experience. So my working premise and one reason I have to spend so much time in archives is that you have to keep working until you can feel the pulse of somebody you're describing and try to put that on the page, because if they're engaged in race, then that will pull people into the story. So I tend to believe that all the labels we use, racist and liberal and moderate and progressive and all, they are just things we put on to try to make ourselves feel moral and protected, but that we don't discover that way. So if race is the path to discover the keys to freedom or the keys to what America means, that path is paved with people. It has to be because conceptually, we fool ourselves into thinking that we're making progress when we're really just massaging labels. That's my -- I think library culture tends to put in the libraries what they're comfortable with, which means that not everything essential to understand race in America is going to be in the library, which is why I feel you have to do interviews, you have to talk to people, you have to take risks talking to people, so I think that's why it's essential and I hope we're going to talk later. I think that's also why movies are so important, because movies are -- movies are about intimacy, and the fact that we have an empty shelf, largely, just of films about the greatest upheaval for freedom in human history. There could be hundreds of movies, but it's really hard to break through, because they're about people who are uncomfortable in their guts and they're very personal, and Maya said experiences is what makes people nervous in Hollywood, to show people in inner conflict about what freedom is. >> All right, so we were going to talk about that later, but Taylor introduced a topic and I'm flexible enough that I can come back to other things. >> I'm sorry. >> It's all good. It's all good. And because this is a film festival, and the films do get people in. Probably more people saw Selma and Twelve Years a Slave than who have read Taylor's books, although they need to read Taylor's books. >> Bless you. >> And there is a short version that sort of gives the highlights. Let's talk about that, because Selma was very powerful and we can come back to some of the things I wanted to drill down on. But Taylor is working on a film, and I'll let him -- a feature film for HBO, right? A great writer, so I want him to tell you about it. >> Taylor Branch: Clarence knows I've been trying to make film for almost 30 years and I failed at -- this is my fifth studio. Alex Haley wrote a script for parting the Waters. I don't know how long he's been dead, but a long time. I'll tell one story to give you the sense of we were having a meeting. The writers are David Simon, the guy who did The Wire, and James McBride, and myself, and we're in a room and they said they had never met Harry Belafonte, who I met through France. I said tomorrow can they come see you? Instead Harry came to HBO and walked in and surprised them and they were astonished. Simon says, Harry, this is a great honor, it's wonderful to see you, I have just one -- we were wrestling with this. We want to have a breakthrough. We know a lot of stuff in Taylor's book, but could you give us some of the lighter humorous moments and lighten this story? And Harry looked at him and said, well, David, I just thought Twelve Years a Slave and I don't recall any jokes in there. There were a few humorous moments in Schindler's List, and I just saw the Diary of Anne Frank again. What kind of humor are you after? He said he sank under the chair realizing -- and McBride comes to his defense, because he's very funny. Well, I want to defend David for asking that question. I'm the guy who wrote a funny book about John Brown, for God's sake. You know, at Harvard's Ferry. So he tried to ask questions and Harry didn't give him much ground. He said, I understand you want to make it humanizing, but if you don't go for the truth and hard truth, you're going to undermine your cause. [Applause] That's the difficulty of making a film in this age that's true about the movement. But nevertheless, Hope Springs Eternal, I think we're going to make it this time. >> Excellent. Gilbert. >> Yeah, they're moving along with that from the book I wrote with McGrove. >> Tell them a little about that book. >> It's basically a story very similar to To Kill a Mockingbird, and the Scotsboro boys. You have African Americans accused of rape and it becomes violent with the Klan burning down houses and the marshal comes in and represents the men and it's a violent story of terrible trial. So Marshall brings them before the U.S. Supreme Court and gets the case overturned, so now we go back to a bad sheriff who does awful things, takes the law into his own hands and starts killing the defendants. Yeah, it's a very dark subject matter, but I think one of the things interesting, Marshall had a tremendous amount of humor, he was a very charismatic guy. A lot was gallows humor and a way of alleviating the stress of the situation, and a lot of times he would get in conferences with his lawyers and, you know, we mentioned earlier about some of the problems you have, you know, middle class African Americans not supporting the movement, because all of a sudden they've become part of the system. So they could no locker get middle class African Americans to contribute to NAACP because it might cost them their job. Marshall was in a conference and turned to his colleague and says, sometimes the easiest part of the job is fighting the white people. Those are the kind of lines that Marshall would come up with. He's a charismatic guy. >> Now, the movie, tell us where the movie is. >> It's just in the process -- the script is being revised for like the fifth time, but it's really getting there. [Laughter ] After listening to some of Taylor's stories about Alex Haley... >> Right. Diane, your experience. >> Lifetime bought "Carry Me Home" and let me let that sink in for a second. I said, oh, I'm going to get breast cancer and my husband is going to cheat on me? [Laughter ] And the producer replied, and then you'll go before Congress and testify and they'll pass a law. Anyway, so that project went south. But I was hoping for -- >> You thought up a new word. >> It was green-lighted and then un-green-lighted. So I think -- yeah, I don't want to say anything bad. >> Didn't you start in entertainment law? >> Can I just -- I just want to tell something that's really -- it's the March on Washington Film Festival, so I want to tell something anecdotally that most people don't know. Everyone is focused on the I Have A Dream speech and so forth. But people don't know that in the committee of the march, when they were making -- there was a discussion about the order in which speakers were going to speak and how much time was going to be allotted. And I had heard that this was going to be a major subject, so I said to Dr. King, I don't think you should come to this meeting. So we go to the meeting and there was some conservative -- well, first of all I was walking into a room full of preacher egos. And I listened as there was a proposal that was put forth that Dr. King should be like the sixth or seventh person out of maybe 15 speakers and he should have about six minutes to speak. And I listened, and I turned to Mr. Randolph and said, may I speak? He said, yes, of course. And knowing that, you know -- I said, excuse me, have all of you heard and seen Dr. King's speech? Oh, yes. Do you really want to follow him? [Laughter ] The second thing I said, I said -- and I know I was walking where angels fear to tread, but I said you know, we don't have any people coming, but it could be 100,000 people. You're running a risk that if he speaks in the middle, when he gets finished, some people could leave. Some people could get up and leaf. So Randolph says, I move that Brother King be the last speaker and that he then -- and that he should be allotted eight to ten minutes. And somebody seconded the motion. And then the motion was passed. And there was a lot of just quiet. And after it was over, he leaned in my ear and says, you go back and tell Martin that Mr. Randolph says, take as much time as you need. [Laughter ] >> And why Mike Dyson is going last today. >> But you can't have as much time... [Laughter ] >> Just thought I should tell you that. >> You know, you have seen a lot of trips and you have seen people trying to tell the stories, so you've seen some things that were sort of whitewashing the story. >> Oh, yeah, I have seen that. I mean, I have -- I think Taylor just mentioned -- he spends a lot of time. Think of this, Taylor and Harry Belafonte, they're together, planning to make a movie. They have Jonathan Demi as the director. And with all of that talent, they can't get the film made. Can't agree. It was a great moment, Harry and I went in to make the last plea to keep the film alive out in Hollywood, and we talked to each other, we went in, we failed. We came out and they pulled the plug. One of the lowest moments of my life. And came out and Harry looked very gravely at me and said, this is your fault. >> That sounds like Harry. >> He said, this wouldn't have had it if you had trimmed your nose hair before we went in there. [Laughter ] Gallows humor. >> But there is this sort of convention of wisdom that stories with black people in them -- >> There is this feeling, I mean, people in the motion picture business, I've heard -- well, you know, overseas, when they're planning -- when they're making projections on revenues from the box office theatrical and so forth, the projections of revenues from overseas are not sufficiently high enough if you have a film about a black subject or black character. Okay? And that was the mountain to climb. And yet as we -- and later years I've seen pictures -- films with Will Smith and Denzel Washington do very well. I look at Variety magazine and look at the box office and so forth. But I'm not on the front lines any more like I used to be, as Taylor is. And I think that Twelve Years -- let me think about it. We have Twelve Years a Slave and Selma. We are talking a period of many, many years. We're talking about a historical experience. Not just the civil rights movement, but the history of the African Americans in this country. Two theatrical films? As I said earlier to Diane, I think, I never will forget watching this film "Glory," and the Matthew Broderick says, there are stories yet to be told. There are stories yet to be told. I mean, give me a break. 1619? 1863? You know... two films?! Two films!? >> You're leaving out The Butler. >> Okay, I'm sorry. [Laughter ] The Butler... I stand corrected. The Butler and The Help. Listen, listen... There's nothing more disconcerting than the impression you have of someone -- you're not my student, of course, but I can be corrected. Okay, including all of those films. But all of those films, my point still stands. My point still stands. Think of the reservoir of the extraordinary history of the so-called African American experience. And by the way -- and I'll just shut up soon. Because I want to be-know, I want to be sure -- and this relates to you, Diane. You know, you were talking about the March on Washington. You know there not likely would have been a March on Washington had it not been for Birmingham, 1963, April and May and the leadership of Fred Shuttlesworth and Dr. King. You know what Birmingham 1963 did? You know what that did? Birmingham 1963 nationalized the conscience of America. How did it do that? Because Birmingham 1963 raised the question: What kind of country is the United States of America? When we can have police dogs and fire hoses applied to young black boys and girls who were walking peacefully to protest segregation? What kind of country is the United States of America, the soviet and its allies were saying, what kind of country is United States of America? People were beginning to say you know, it's not right. And it was the nationalized conscience of Birmingham that nationalized the country, that created what I call the catalyst of the March on Washington. Stated another way... in my opinion, it is unlikely that in 1963 -- it may have happened a later time -- it is unlikely in August 1963 there would have been a March on Washington had there not been a Birmingham. I would like to say a quick story that you're involved coming right off your story, sitting in the -- this is a backhanded plug for J. Edgar Hoover. I'm standing in the FDR Reading Room not far from here reading the verbatim text, which are pretty accurate, of the wiretap between Clarence and Stanley Levison talking to Dr. King after Birmingham. He left and landed in Cleveland and called from Cleveland and said, things have really changed. Used to be the black preacher would pick me up. There were 14,000 people at the airport when I landed in Cleveland. Stanley is excited and talking about how many more speaking engagements they can get and Ralph can fill some of them and so on and so forth. And Dr. King says you don't understand, we are on a breakthrough. We need a national protest. Call A. Phillip Randolph. You can see on the page the March on Washington born on the wiretap conversation, and then when it was over and Dr. King got off, Clarence called Stanley again. So you see that, and they say, wow, that was really something. And Levison, I don't know if it was Stanley or you, maybe you, said, you know, Martin tends to be a pretty conservative character but he is saying the moment is now. This is a pretty exciting thing. So you can hear -- I think you can feel history changing in those little conversations. [Applause] >> A'Lelia Bundles: So I love it when a panel gets to this moment with the energy. So you have really set up the question for Diane, because Diane grew up in Birmingham and you pulled the covers off both as a child and then coming back to take a look. So talk to us a little bit about what that was like making those discoveries. >> Diane McWhorter: Apparently I didn't do that good a job because everybody was shocked that Atticus turned out to be a racist. If they read my book they wouldn't have been shocked at all. [Laughter ] Yeah, I didn't really -- I wasn't that aware of it going into it that -- I mean, that the book was -- and probably half is going to be about how segregation works and how it functioned and why people who thought of themselves as good people did the things they did. Like Atticus, and I remember when the stuff came out with the new book, Harper Lee's new book. Oh, my God, that's your book. Harper Lee is such a copycat. [Laughter ] So anyway, I just -- I was interested in the sort of power -- the people who lived at the country club and how they were controlling the Klansmen and I went in with the cynical journalist expectations, because we are cynical as a tribe, and I found out usually -- almost without fail that whatever I suspected, the reality turned out to be so much worse. So, for example, I figure the U.S. steel which controlled the economy of Birmingham had something to do with the racism there, but I thought it was just sort of an understanding, that people knew how to function, and that they wouldn't get into trouble. But then I found out that U.S. steel had sponsored this -- we now would call it an AstroTurf organization, but a league to maintain white supremacy. And they hit vigilantes to beat up labor organizers. And it was just so much worse than anything I thought, and in the final -- once the book came out, I'm sure all writers have this experience, once you own a subject and people want to tell you what really happened. And there was a really great, actually, police reporter for the Birmingham News who was a spy for the publisher of the Birmingham News and he had surveillance equipment that was much more sophisticated than what the police department had. He was always in Saudi Arabia when I was in Birmingham doing interviews and people assumed he was with the CIA. He was involved in all sorts of skullduggery in Birmingham, and after the book came out, I was kind of scared. So did I get anything wrong? He goes, I don't know if you got anything wrong, but you left out a few things. And then he just proceeded to tell me stuff that was so much worse than stuff that I -- that was so bad to me that I thought it may not be true. And one of the things he told me is that a policeman had told him that he had been ordered to assassinate Fred Shuttlesworth, the nonviolent civil rights leader in Birmingham, that Bill Connor had ordered him to assassinate Shuttlesworth and he went about it, and the assassin, who was a black guy, under penalty of the law in some way, chickened out at the last minute. But what this told me, this was after the book came out, what this told me was that the Birmingham News, the paper of record knew that Bull Connor was trying to assassinate Shuttlesworth, and I documented two other assassination attempts that Connor was in on against Shuttleworth, but not that the paper had known, and they endorsed Bull Connor, and as I said, it was so much worse than I had imagined, and then the other thing was that this Rabbi, who was one of the clergymen who King addressed a letter from Birmingham jail had also been subsidizing to buy the surveillance equipment, and you know, made himself out as being one of the great lib rat beacons in -- lib rat beacons in town and race relations. So it was a bonanza of evil. It just boggled the mind. >> So we know that things have changed, and America has gotten better in many, many ways, but as they say, the past is not past. It's not dead. So within the last year especially, Black Lives Matter and the murders of Tamir Rice and Eric Garner and Freddy Gray -- thank you very much -- and even some of you may have been reading Sandra Bland within the last 48 hours, a young woman on her way to a new job at prairie View A&M was found dead in her cell in Texas after being pulled over for a minor traffic violation. So there are things that have changed, but sometimes it's things that things haven't changed. So what are some of the things that you all wrote about from that period of time, some things you observed. What are some of the same challenges and themes we're seeing today? >> One of the things, I have an experience of an African American woman at the University of San Francisco stopping me and getting into a conversation and starting to cry, just started to cry. She said, you know, I have great respect for you, Dr. Jones, and I know your work with Dr. King. Did you really believe in nonviolence? And I said, well, that's a whole separate issue. [chuckles] Because we don't have time to go into that, because as I'm writing -- I did not believe in nonviolence personally, but that's another -- but the point is, I said, yes, I believe in the ethics of nonviolence. She says, you don't understand, Mr. Jones, they have no respect for us. They have no respect for us today. And maybe -- maybe Malcolm X was right. What do you mean Malcolm X was right? The only thing they understand is if you give them what they give you. I said, hold on, I'd like to take some time to talk to you. And then I had to talk about the relative position of African American people in the country, white people, and the whole question of violence, per se. But it was an index. It was a microcosm of what I experience in other parts of the country with other young -- principally African Americans, but not exclusively. They respect the legacy of what has on before, but they -- what has gone on before, but you see how they treat us in Ferguson? You see how they treat us in Ferguson? You see what they did to Eric? You see what they did to Tamir Rice? You see that and you think we should just go and peacefully protest? They don't understand that. And they don't understand that. And I have to take the time to explain to them, with all due respect to the intensity of their justifiable anger, that the question confronting them today is how true to effectively and strategically use power. You understand? It's about power. [Applause] And I've said, make no mistake, you are making a message. You are sending a message of power. The only way you can dissipate the potency of that message is if you commit violence. Okay? Now, I just -- I just want to say one thing. I came early today I had a meeting with the director of the FBI. I spent an hour and fifteen minutes talking to these brothers -- not brothers, but -- I discussed this very issue. The reality has to be in the reality to have mindset of young people and we have -- "we" so-called elders have a responsibility to the extent we can to translate the relevance of the March on Washington, to translate the relevance of the voting rights act, to translate the relevance of the Civil Rights Act. To translate -- I saw a film last night on Fannie Lou Hamer, they wouldn't ask me questions. They would see it. They would see such an example of committed struggle they would see it can work, it can be done. >> But actually that was absolutely perfect, because we need to wrap the panel up so we can go to the next part. But is exactly why the March on Washington Film Festival is important. For those of us in my generation who came of age during the civil rights movement, because I am that old, who know something, who experienced something but need to know more, and especially for subsequent generations, because people are being miseducated and intentionally miseducated and as many people as possible need to see those films, need to read the book. We will be signing books afterwards, but I would like to give our panel a round of applause. [Applause] >> So Professor Dyson, I think you're on. >> One moment. Everyone please send your cards to your right. My Beyonce left. >> I just want to say something. >> The cards are coming. >> This brother here, you do not want to follow him. You understand? [Laughter ] You don't want to follow this brother. >> Right. That's why he's wrapping up. [Laughter ] >> Wow. [Applause] Amazing Grace. Amazing Grace. I won't repeat. That extraordinary eulogy, but what we heard here tonight, I feel like I'm the water boy at the all-star game, because you've heard honestly from some of the greatest writers about the experience of America and Americans, and African Americans in the history of this country, and you should give them a warm round of applause. [Applause] Now, I know in the age of Twitter, it's hard to get beyond Twitteracy and read long stuff. Big fat books. But I love big fat books, because big fat books have big fat ideas, all right? [Applause] And when you hear Gilbert King and Taylor Branch and Diane McWhorter and Sister bundles and Clarence Jones talk about these important ideas, what you're hearing is the remix of their incredible linguistic engagement with the history and rhetoric of democracy and as Taylor Branch said, the centrality of race. To see a predominant white panel in this day and age grapple in public out loud with the history of white supremacy and slavery as Dr. Jones talked about it, is not only a remarkable testimony to the grit and grace they possess but to the rhetorical and even more importantly the moral courage to tell the truth to America when it's addicted to amnesia. [Applause] It was said we live in the United States of Amnesia. I think the theme song is supplied by Barbara Streisand, what is too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget. And what they do is peel back the layers to expose to us the ugly gritty realities, and think about it, as white scholars for Taylor, Gilbert, and for Diane, too, to bravely confront their own folk to say, this is the deal, because it's not like other articulate Latino, African American, other native peoples have not tried to make an argument about the centrality of these movements, but you hear it better when it's your own folk. And when you have intelligent articulate rhetorically sophisticated white brothers and sisters bearing the truth to a recalcitrant and intransigent forcing them to internalize truths they might otherwise be alienated from, I think this is a credit to the courage they possess, and to hear Dr. Jones, who wrote many of the speeches of Dr. King, who stood with him, you can see his homegrown eloquence matched to his rhetorical and legal skills, his logical analyzes wedded to his appreciation for the gut-busting realities of the people in the field. And to feel that power is to remind us why it's important to tell stories to our children. Do we really doubt that the young man, Dylan Roof was radicalized as a Lone Wolf terrorist separated from the pack, but the pack itself was vicious and mendacious, because it's fed a story. What did he say in his manifesto... as I Googled... I tell students all the time, Wikipedia isn't Encyclopedia Britannica. I'm not dissing it. Look, post linguistic -- post-literal culture we're in now, I'm not dissing it. You've got to have Twitter. You've got to have Google. You've got to have Snapchat and Vimeo. And it leads to different things. Cyber-links can be deeper than what we think. I'm not here to dis that kind of culture, but what I'm trying to suggest is you have to have quality control. This man was radicalized by the proliferation of information that was disinformation that fed his characteristic impulse to undermine the integrity and humanity of black people. That's why these books, these people and these films are so important. [Applause] And, you know, when we think about it, what is going on now, Sister Bundles, brilliant work, lineage and pedigree she shares with a great progenitor, because women are often obscured. Their bodies, the experiences, her reminder of Sandra, because we think all experiences of race happen to be male. And we feel that some of the female experiences happen to be white or "other," but African American women's bodies have been the intersection of the competing forces of terror that have occupied this country and have been perpetuated Against them even by folk within their own culture. Now... So when Dr. Jones and Ms. McWhorter and Brother King talk about the black people -- black people are like, yeahhhhh... that's us... oh, black parents were beating their kids for participating the movement. Don't act like you didn't know that. You were going to get a beat-ing. So black folks get upset and get on their haunches, I get it. But black middle class -- the black middle class of Cosby? I don't mean to drug you, I'm just sayin' now... [Laughter ] That's just an inter-lude. But anyway... [chuckles] Oh, I wrote a book ten years ago and negroes mad at me. Ten years ago. What is equally offensive as the nefarious alleged activity of making somebody unconscious and rendering them through narcotics complicit in your sexual desire is demonize black women the way he did and to assault young black people the way he did. But you didn't get upset with that because you have become so enured and consciences so sunk by the politics of respectability that you didn't even see that was equally problematic. Maybe if you pulled up their dreams, their drawers would follow. Maybe. Maybe if you gave them something to aim for, then they would not be obsessed with the iconography of stuff that comes and goes and fashion. Maybe then they could get deeply ensconced in a culture of intelligence that gives to them a sense of who they are, but yet they find it in some of the music that you dismissed. Mr. Cosby was so blithely oblivious to. Somebody wake me I'm dreaming, I started as a semen, upstream planted in the womb while screaming. My mother hollering stop, from a single drop, this is what they got? Not to disrespect my people, but papa was a loser. Mama was a blinker and abuser and as a seed I could see his plan for me, stranded on welfare, a broken family. Or someone said, all my teachers couldn't reach me and mama couldn't beat me, hard to match the pain of my pop not seeing me With that, membrane, got on my pimp game and my defense came. Alternate sites of knowledge production that are important and critical to the salvation and redemption of the people if we will tap into the same impulse of story, of vision and of community that are mediated here. Let me end by saying this then. It is extremely important -- it is extremely important, another elder today jumped on sea coast. Just mad. A lot of old people get jealous. We could dress it up. Just envious of other folks. Do your thing. And that doesn't mean that somebody else can't do their thing. And when a younger person comes along -- because you are up stage here with these folk right here, these are wordsmiths. They sling words for a living. If they were drug addicts they would be kingpins. That's what they do. The verbiage. The rhetoric. Right? The purity of the language. The use of commas and verbs and adverbs. There is ethic in grammar. And they have made it subservient to a higher truth. So don't disrespect the nature of what they do up here. This is remarkable. But don't be mad when you see somebody else, well, he ain't bald. He ain't got to be bald to be himself. Baldwin was a bad man. A black gay man when it wasn't popular to be either. A man who controlled his pen with extraordinary precision, but he evolved. Coast wrote about reparations. Jay hadn't wrote anything like that. Michael Jordan was bad, but he didn't make difficult shots like Colby. They're both great. Why we got to be either/or in the whole dadgum deal. That's part of the problem. I end by saying, let's celebrate what these young activists are doing, what the young folk in the streets are doing, what the young folk who are determined to listen are doing, but let's not forget the tap source and the deep root. Let us not forget the vein we must access in order for the blood to flow, in order for the body to be revived, in order for the optics of race as Taylor Branch speaks about it, so powerfully to turn around what we perceive, so that we can understand what we are looking at, and when we do that through image and film, when we do that through word, when we do that through community, then you and I as a human community, as an American nation, can get beyond the vicious ideology of difference, what Howard Thurman called a bigot, a bigot is a person who makes an idol of his commitments. Stop making a fetish of our commitment and maybe we can understand what white liberals feel like when black people who stand on their haunches and their incredibly liberating churches speak out against gay or lesbian or transgender or bisexual people. You have the nerve having been victims of racism to dog somebody else because of that. When we learn to accentuate our own humanity, we come together. God bless you. [Cheers and applause] >> David Ferriero, has that happened in this theatre before? We haven't gone to church in here before. I'm awake now. What an incredible evening. [Applause] >> So we thank you for your questions. We have six here. We always run out of time, but this is probably going to be the quickest way. So this first one says, what is the basis for your statement that middle class blacks did not support the civil rights movement? So I guess Diane -- >> It was just an anecdote, wasn't the general -- probably too general a statement, but one of the great fundraising problems occurred for the NAACP in the '40s and early '50s and they basically cost contribution from $1 to $2, and that jumped in price really hurt the NAACP really seriously. So one of the things that led to -- this is kind of an interesting -- I'll be quick about this, but kind of an interesting development. Thurgood Marshall and legal defense fund, they're in houses cases and school segregation cases and contributions didn't really flow inasmuch. But when dead bodies started showing up on newspapers, that sparked thousands and thousands of dollars coming from around the country. So in this one particular Groveland historian that I wrote about, a lot of people don't realize Brown versus Board was funded on the back of this criminal case. They raised more than $100,000 that came in and more than covered the case of Brown, and it was based on the back of having photographs of dead African Americans in a gutter killed viciously on the side of a road, and you could see all of a sudden their donation logs just came in. Marshall got excited about this stuff and said our performances in court is making a huge difference. It's inspiring people. When African American lawyers stand up in court and start arguing with prosecutors and judges, it was inspiring the Jim Crow balconies and that's one of the things that really picked up when you see these criminal cases. And Emmett Hill, another example, we talked about earlier, the consciousness suddenly got raised. What kind of country do you want to live in that would kill children? All of a sudden these cases sort of gathered on the conscience of America much more -- in a much more, I guess you could say exciting or theatrical way than if you talked about housing and voting or school cases. Sometimes it really took the shock to the American senses and made people really question, what kind of country do we want to live in This doesn't seem like a narrative of our great country. >> So it's like Twitter and Kickstarter now, we can see these pictures. Dr. Jones, you were there. You knew when people started giving, when Harry Belafonte gave, sort of grassroots. >> Clarence Jones: What was said, everybody is entitled to their opinion but not entitled to their own set of facts. As a general proposition in 1963, and in Birmingham -- I didn't live there -- in Birmingham, many of the southern states, as a general proposition, large segments of the black middle class did not support the civil rights movement, okay? >> This is the horse's mouth. >> I'm telling the truth. It did not, okay? Now, one of the most powerful challenges to the black middle class was Martin Luther King, Jr. himself. A lot of you may -- there was the most important major convention of African American preachers was the National Baptist Convention, headed by a man named J. H. Jackson, I believe he was. Conservative. The reason why they had the so-called progressive convention is that a group of African American preachers, Gardner Taylor... I can't think of all of them. Yeah, Birmingham, they left. They left and formed their own group. And I must tell you that in California, this whole question of gay rights, I was -- I would be in a discussion and be challenged when someone would say, well, you talk as if -- you talk as if Dr. King would have supported gay rights. I said, look, I'm not going to be so presumptuous as to say what he would have. I can only interpret the man as I knew him. Basically before a civil rights minister he was a minister and deeply committed to his gospel. I would say, by the way, you know, all of you are Christians. Oh, yes, yes. I said, what I don't understand... what I don't understand is that I was -- I was raised that we were all created in the image of God. So I said, did you ever think about this? God must really love gay and LGBT people. Otherwise, why would he keep creating so many of them? [Laughter ] Hello!? >> And Diane. >> Diane McWhorter: Let me clarify something because I'm the one that said that, black, no class. NAACP was a middle class movement. I was referring to when King and Shuttleworth took the movement to the streets, it was very unpopular among the black middle class. The Atlanta Daily World had a policy -- the Black Daily in Atlanta, King could not be -- his picture could not be on the front page. There were a lot of divisions. And King was the black middle class, the reason he was so effective as a leader, he could speak to many different times. Shuttlesworth was extremely unpopular in the black community in Birmingham and his followers were largely working class and the black middle class was snobbish about them. And also they had too much prosperity to risk on a losing proposition, so King had to come to town and to shame he went to a meeting of black business leaders and said you need to get on board. >> Meanwhile there were always -- >> Sugar coating it. The movement was a tiny fraction of the black community in that time, and the people that were hardest to get on board were the middle class and that makes sense. They had stuff to lose. When Dr. King decided to go to Birmingham, who did he not take to the meeting to plan it? His own father. Because his own father was going to try to stop it. So this is... >> Unsettled law. >> In the film "Selma," the exception proves the rule, they didn't have enough time to set it up, but the moment in Selma when the teachers went to jail and held up their toothbrushes was a seminal moment in the movie precisely because middle class teachers had never supported a movement before, and when they did it, it was, we got something going here. We've got lots of trouble. But that's just a reality of the way -- even Thurgood Marshall called King a boy on a man's errand, because the NAACP as a whole never supported street demonstration. So this is -- >> All that walking for nothing. >> That was some Snoop Dog verses, east coast-west coast. It was really tough. No, no, really. Because Thurgood, he took no teeth for the fever. And Roy Wilkins and King clashed incessantly. I don't know why black middle class is acting like they don't know. Think of Al Sharpton 20 years ago. I'm not trying to make an uncritical valorization or equivalent, because they don't have to be. Al, Val, but think about it, the notion of police brutality was thought to be something negroes in New York who were poor, but then it metastasizes and now it's the civil interest of the civil rights movement, a guy with a perm and basically if you put him next to a silhouette of George Washington you can't tell the difference. So he took it old school. Tory and Whig. I love it. Al Sharpton reinvented himself. He reinvented himself. So Al Sharpton -- I'm saying this in praise of Al Sharpton, he was demonized, black hooligans that middle class black folk looked down on and he's a central figure connected to a black president in a historic fashion. Take that and imagine what Dr. King -- now, it's hard for you to think Dr. King was demonized. He committed class suicide. He was one of "them" and he became one of "them." He started identifying with regular negroes and argued with his daddy after he borrowed money because he gave up most of his income, as Taylor Branch talked about, Dr. Jones gave up most of his money, his own negro institution wouldn't put him on the board. Morehouse College two and a half years before he died refused to do so. Why? Brother Merrill. White brother, Merrill lynch, head of the board said Dr. King was a poor role model. Why? Because he went to jail too long. He wasn't selling crack. That's the black middle class, bourgeois, E. Franklin Frazier, upwardly mobile. I'm saying when you see that don't ask like you know it. That's why I bring it back to Bill Cosby, not about the drugs, but the politics of respectability that beats down on the vulnerable. What kind of coward do you have to be to be a half a billionaire to beat up on people in the street and talk about the names God gave them when he was friends with Oprah, that ain't no regular name. I'm saying to you that he dogged black people's names. Notice the kind of internal mess you saw going on. So why are we surprised that what was happening then, just as it's happening under our noses right now. [Applause] >> So... [Laughter ] So that we get the nuance and all the details of the evolution of the attitudes of the middle class, we do need to read your books. They need to read these books and buy these books. Just to talk about now -- so are there any parallels between Birmingham and the recent events in Charleston, South Carolina, or anything that we've been talking about? >> Oh, yeah, the church shootings and the church bombing that killed the four girls whose picture you see flashing up there, well, to start with, the place where they think the bomb was made was a sign shop where the bombers, the night before, the previous night, were making confederate flags to parade for a Klan parade, a segregated school valley and whatnot. I don't know, one big thing I've noticed is that -- this has been, needless to say a stain on Birmingham that cannot be eradicated, especially since the bombers went free for so long. But the city sort of take it upon itself as being the victim rather than the actual victims. And I hate to see this happening in Charleston, but that was the first reaction that I started noticing, oh, no, we're all victims. The mayor of Birmingham, in less than 24 hours after the church was bombed and the four girls were killed, he went on television and said, all of us are victims and most of us are innocent victims. I remember when I read that, couldn't they have had sole martyrdom for 24 hours, does it have to be about us and how we're going to suffered from this? That's one thing I cringed about Charleston. The reaction, of course, is different, but, you know, this is -- these victims were targeted particularly. It wasn't the city. >> Very good point. Gilbert, any -- >> Gilbert King: I could just go back to a few years earlier in 1951, there's a man named Harry Seymour. I think people know Medgar Evers, but Seymour was in Florida and working with Marshall on this particular case, and in the middle of the trial, the Klan put a bomb under his house killing him and his wife. 1951, Christmas night. And his name is kind of forgotten as a martyr of the civil rights movement, but I think one of the most disturbing things, when I got ahold of the FBI files and started looking through them, some of the FBI agents who were investigating this, they felt like they had cornered the suspects. They had them and it was a matter of leaning on them and getting some of them to talk. All of a sudden an order comes from the U.S. Attorney's Office quashing the investigation. And there were four words that kind of stick with me today that I find so disturbing. The reason given was, quote, tranquility of the south. In other words, if people really knew what was happening, it would just make a bigger noise and a bigger mess, and we just can't have the public knowing this, and it was quashed. There were FBI agents really live individual about this, but it was one of those situations where you have a U.S. attorney who is maybe a segregationist himself. There's no benefit for him pursuing civil rights cases, so they were more than happy to see some of these things just die and you could get away with it very easily. >> On this issue, just briefly, I think to put it in historical perspective, Birmingham 50 years ago was as Dr. King told Clarence and Stanley, a national breakthrough. It opened southern gates that are still benefiting people, that are benefiting gay people and women. It was a breakthrough. We've had an awful lot of wake-up moments now but I don't think we've had a breakthrough. I liken it to the '50s, things are percolating but they haven't coalesced. We have a lot of cynicism and gridlock. The country is still very adept at shaking off whatever happens and forgetting and saying, let's don't talk about that. The Pope gave an incredible speech last week that's already forgotten. I don't think we've had a breakthrough yet. I'm hoping we're building toward one and people realize that it's up to me to do that. But I wouldn't say that we're in a breakthrough moment. >> We have like one minute. I'm going to say something quick and let Dr. Jones have the last word, because he's the man. >> Okay. >> No, no, I'm just saying you get to do something quick. >> I'll defer to Dr. Jones. >> Are you sure? Because I just... >> Well, first of all, I want to say, I'm -- with ear all sorry that our mutual friend Michele North -- >> I'm standing in for my friend Michele who is in California. >> I think this is -- I think this is an incredible event. It is important to take time to pause and reflect and to reflect the past as it relates to the present. I would say those of us who have some experience with the past is that we, and those of our generation, that we are challenged to listen to the voices of this generation. We are challenged to listen and pay attention to them. Because they respect what we've done. They truly respect what has gone before us. And they're groping on how to cope with that respect and deal with the reality of 2015 police brutality. They need to let America know that black lives matter. Guess what. That's what Birmingham 1963 was about. Telling the country that black lives matter. >> Can I just briefly say -- >> Yes, you can, Mike. >> He is the authority. The point about it, as great, a week, two-week period as Obama had, would not have occurred without Black Lives Matter in the streets without principal critique that a lot of black people, black middle class in particular, did not want to hear, but that forced him into a particular situation, along with the politically viable circumstance, unfortunately, of the tragedy, horror and terror, because in black America we suffer from slow terror and fast terror. Fast terror, bombs bursting. Slow terror, poor schools. Getting expelled early. Not being, you know, seen as a human being. That is slow terror that slowly eats away at you. We deal with two speeds. Fast and slow. Obama, as great a man as he is, like any other president, ain't going to do what he ain't made to do. So he's been made to do it in the most positive fashion possible. We know the white supremacists destruction on him is so deep, it's nearly impossible for him to breathe black and not be accused of it, right? He's been racially profiled while presiding. Presiding while black. What are you doing, right? [Laughter ] So we know that. He has to be pushed because even a man like -- and you know, Mr. Branch and Dr. Jones will tell you, when FDR tells R. Phillip Randolph, make me do it. I believe what you're saying, now set the context. Don't be mad at the context setters who rub up against authority, who are offensive, who are loud, young people who are doing it, but I tell you what, Dr. Jones made a brilliant point. Without the tweets and the social media down in Florida, Trayvon Martin would not have made it to Al Stockton and other leaders. We have to see the transmission of the energy. This is a different moment too, because for the first time, the man is a brother. Right? That's -- Moses is now Pharoah and Moses has been doing things that call for mosaic response, but we've been depleted of the moral energy, so it's been displaced into those communities that we're not used to hearing from, and I think the beauty of the Black Lives Matter moment is that it forces all of us to grapple -- this is what Hillary Clinton found out, as great as she is, gave a great speech on race, several speeches recently that should be remarked on, that are remarkable, dealing with the institutional and intimate forms of violence. A brave woman, but when she went to the church and said all lives matter, she didn't mean it. The point is she didn't understand our lives already matter. White lives already matter because we see how they're appreciated. Black lives have to be underscored and I think that's what we're dealing with now. It forced all of us, black presidents and white politicians to deal with the nitty-gritty reality of fast and slow terror in the 21st century as black people struggle with an internal dilemma, how to breathe and stay black and alive while evincing the moral properties we inherited from a people whose humanity is always suspect and whose intelligence is always in question. That's the beauty of what this movement has done as well. [Applause] >> What happens next is that you will be able to have your books signed outside, and I wanted to remind you that there are more evenings in our festival coming up until the 25th. You mentioned Harold Moore, his daughter is going to be on a panel of cold cases. Birmingham Shelly Stewart who was a deejay at the time, sending coded records between the records is going to be here. And much more. Please thank our panel. [Applause] >> Thank you so much. Good night!



Stanley David Levison was born in New York City on May 2, 1912, to a Jewish family. Levison attended the University of Michigan, Columbia University, and the New School for Social Research. He received two law degrees from St. John's University. While serving as treasurer of the American Jewish Congress in Manhattan, he aided in the defense of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. During this period, he worked for a variety of liberal causes.[1]

In the early 1950s the FBI considered Levison to be a major financial coordinator for the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) and began to monitor his activities. The FBI had him under the surveillance of Jack and Morris Childs, two former CPUSA members who became FBI informants. According to the FBI, Levison's CPUSA activities ended in 1957.[2]

He had initially been introduced to King by Bayard Rustin, a Quaker, in New York City in 1956. Though King had offered to pay Levison in exchange for his help, Levison refused on every occasion, as he believed "the liberation struggle is the most positive and rewarding area of work anyone could experience."[3]

He was questioned by the FBI twice, on February 9 and March 4, 1960.[4] Two years later, on April 30, 1962, he was called to testify under subpoena at an executive session of the Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security, where he was represented by William Kunstler. Large parts of his testimony are still classified.[5]

Although there was no evidence of Levison having further ties to the CPUSA, the FBI used his earlier communist history to justify wiretaps and bugs on his offices and the offices and hotel rooms of Martin Luther King. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had long associated the civil rights movement with communism, and he strongly expected that Levison would use or manipulate King to stimulate political unrest within the United States. In 2012, Tim Weiner wrote in his history of the FBI that Hoover believed Levison had "indoctrinated King in Marxist thought and subversive strategies", and that King was "part of Moscow's grand design to subvert the United States of America."[6]

Levison was instrumental in all the activities of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the organization established by King and other Southern black preachers to further the cause of civil rights. He professionalized the fund raising of the organization and took on many of the publicity tasks, in addition to serving as King's literary agent. He was also a close adviser to King and a ghostwriter for him.[7]

After suffering from cancer and diabetes, Levison died in 1979.[1]


Levison's role as advisor and friend to King was portrayed by actor Steven Hill in King, a 1978 television miniseries. He is also portrayed by Bruce Nozick in All the Way. He was portrayed by Larry Keith in the 1983 miniseries Kennedy[8]


  1. ^ a b "Levison, Stanley David". King Institute Resources. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  2. ^ Garrow, David (July 2002). "The FBI and Martin Luther King". Atlantic Monthly. 290 (1).
  3. ^ Levison, Stanley in King Encyclopedia
  4. ^ "Levison, Stanley D., 1912-1979".
  5. ^ "FBI — Stanley Levison". FBI.
  6. ^ Weiner, Tim, Enemies A History of the FBI (2012), New York, Random House, p. 230.
  7. ^ GAGE, BEVERLY (November 11, 2014). "What an Uncensored Letter to M.L.K. Reveals". NYTimes.
  8. ^


  • Taylor Branch, At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68
  • Taylor Branch, Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65
  • Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63
  • Ben Kamin. Dangerous Friendship: Stanley Levison, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Kennedy Brothers. Michigan State University Press, 2014.
  • Tim Weiner, Enemies, A History of the FBI, Random House, 2012.

External links

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