Monte Wasch

SCLC, AFSCME, 1960-68, Maryland, DC, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi
Current Residence: New Lebanon, NY
Email: monte@fairpoint.net
Phone: 518-781-0195
Web Site: www.askmonte.com

I was in Atlanta, Montgomery and Jackson on behalf of SCLC's New York arm (the "Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Freedom in the South" — quite a mouthful, wasn't it?) in 1960-61. I traveled to Cambridge, MD with CORE in 1963 (although not a CORE member); was arrested there. I was in Montgomery, AL in 1965 coordinating clergy travel and participation in the Selma march for the Presbyterian Church. I was in Memphis in 1968 on behalf of the sanitation department strikers for AFSCME, for the two weeks before Dr. King was assassinated, and for the memorial march thereafter.

Here are some of my recollections:

The two Youth Marches (1958-59) were directed from an old, drafty, second-floor walkup office on 125th St., called the "Negro Labor Committee" (led by Frank Crosswaite, the NLC was a coordinating body of black union activists). There was a body of white students working alongside the black activists and leadership. Bayard Rustin directed the office. I first went there in September 1958 (I was an entering freshman at CCNY, right up the hill). I worked for Sy Posner, who was the PR guy for the marches, as well as for the 1963 march (later, I was Sy's campaign manager when he won a State Assembly seat in the Bronx). Sy is perhaps most visible on [this website] as the pudgy white guy to Martin King's right as he delivers the "I have a dream" speech. Most of the senior planning meetings for the marches were held at the Sleeping Car Porters' HQ which was right down the block on 125th.

[The website's] summary of the Youth Marches correctly reports Eisenhower's snub of the first march. The second march, in 1959, carried thousands of petition signatures to be delivered to the White House and Congress. While the White House assigned a junior official to meet with march organizers, several liberal members of Congress attended the march itself and "received" the petitions. A left-wing publication, the National Guardian, had a picture of this ceremony on its cover (I wonder if someone can locate a copy for your files). I believe my younger brother was in that image.

The staff of the Youth Marches morphed into the staff of the "Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Freedom in the South." Organized early in 1960, it was designed as a Northern support arm of SCLC. But the sit-ins beginning in February 1960 quickly changed the agenda. The Committee, also housed at the Negro Labor Committee and led by Bayard Rustin and the same staff, began organizing the Woolworth boycotts/picket lines throughout the Northeast and Midwest, fundraising efforts, and a series of newspaper ads (written by Lorraine Hansberry). One of these, in the New York Times, was the cause of the famous libel case New York Times v. Sullivan, which established that public officials had a higher standard to prove malice in a libel suit.

One of the byproducts of this Committee was that some of the staffers, including me, organized ourselves into a local political club, and began a publication called Common Sense, which eventually became the New York City nucleus of Students for a Democratic Society.

Finally, on the 1963 March on Washington: I worked for Gordon Haskell, one of the senior volunteers. Our team was responsible for lining up transportation for the march. We contacted every bus company between Boston and Chicago over a feverish period of seven or eight weeks. We also worked with the airlines and railroads — I believe there were 21 special trains we added to their schedules.

On the morning of the March, Bayard sent me down to DC on the earliest train; my job was to work with DC police on the implementation of the parking plan.

I am convinced to this day that the participation in the march was seriously underestimated. I was on the platform at about noon when Phil Randolph received the capital police estimate of 200,000 and repeated it over the microphones (although people were frantically trying to prevent him for doing so). There were still trains and buses arriving at that time, and nobody really had any handle on the number of local folks who were simply walking onto the march, or arriving in cabs and city buses. I remain convinced that we had close to 400,000 there that day.

 


 
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