An I Was There Moment
by Jimmy Garrett
2019

[At the time of the March, James Garrett led the Los Angeles SNCC office. He coordinated recruitment of Hollywood celebrities to support the March.]

An I was there moment. I attended and rubbed shoulders with some of the more than 250 000 people at the March on Washington. On the night before the March, as an assistant to one of the key organizers on the west coast, I checked off the names on the manifest for those who boarded the charted plane that carried the "Hollywood Stars" from the Hollywood/Pasadena airport to Washington, DC. Because of the generosity of Thomas Newsom, the first Black to serve as Counsel for the Hollywood NAACP, I was one of the last of about 100 to board the flight. Lancaster, Newman, Joanne Woodward, all present and accounted for.

Rita Moreno seemed to be very joyful. She sang and danced down the aisle during the early hours of the flight. Pernell Roberts, who I had met during several CR Marches seemed to grasp that I was in way over my head. He sat on a seat next to me for a while, talking more to himself than to me about the importance of the coming event.

After an extended stopover at Midway airport in Chicago, other than James Garner, who teased Poitier throughout the final leg, nearly everyone was worn out.

The Hollywood delegation arrived early on the 28th. A long day followed. After a quick toilet, change of clothes, and a breakfast of hotdogs and soft drinks, we gathered, lined up by serpentine, and jogged to the front, stage left, below the memorial. The August sun was fully exposed, but DC's infamous humidity had thankfully taken the day off. Contingents of Black women dressed in white, passed through the crowd, distributing paper fans with wooden handles. Buckets holding cold Nehi and 7up sodas, were placed at the end of our aisles.

I kept written notes of some of the gossip (sometimes whispered, sometimes loudly repeated), that passed down two or three rows of "stars."

"Baldwin's statement had been replaced."

"Belafonte was bumped as speaker even though he was one of the main financial sponsors of the MOW. Some people thought he had not been completely cleared of his "communist" associations."

"Gloria Richardson, Dorothy Height and other Black Women leaders were very upset that they would not be allowed to speak."

On the evening of the 28th, I attended one of several private receptions that were held at one of DC's 5 star hotels. At this hotel, Blacks were officially, only allowed in the lobby and in the meeting halls and reception rooms. It was reported to me that because Blacks were barred as hotel guests, Sammy Davis and Frank Sinatra had cut a deal to pay for a separate floor to house the dozen or so Black "stars." To protect the hotel's reputation, the linen used on that floor had to be replaced.

By 9pm the room was full of invited celebrities. As I sat in a corner waiting for a room key, a dozen or so young Blacks crashed the party. They burst in requesting assistance in gaining publicity for the plight of four civil rights workers who had been arrested on sedition charges while doing voter registration organizing in Americus, Georgia. A few of the crashers passed out leaflets declaring that if convicted, Don Harris, Zev Aleony, John Perdew, and Ralph Allen were threatened with the death penalty under Georgia law. One young man said that the group were civil rights activists who had just arrived aboard a "freedom train" that had embarked from Jacksonville, FL. Within a few minutes, clusters of "stars" and "invaders" formed around the large buffet table, The young people pocketed Hor d'oeuvres as they lobbied for their jailed comrades.

Before the group was ushered out of the room by white men wearing identical blue suits, Pernell Roberts (who had told me he was from Waycross, GA), Dr. Fred Shuttleworth and maybe, Brando agreed to help them set up a press conference.

The next day, at about 2:30 pm, less than two dozen of the original delegation boarded the charter plane at National Airport for the return flight to California.

Copyright © James Garrett, 2019.


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