Re: March on Washington (multiple responses)

Sun, 26 Oct 97 12:27:04 EST

Two things occur to me, both in regard to the now-familiar media
coverage, in particular the endlessly-running clips of "I have a
dream." First: at many rallies and demoes, the noise of the crowd and
the low quality of the ampli- fication means that those watching on tv
or watching later clips have a much clearer picture of what speakers
were saying than did those present. ON the other hand, this notion of
what a demonstration is about exaggerates the im- portance of the
speakers (especially MLKing) and ignores the realities of the
demonstration as mass-action. Analyzing King's speech will not tell
you very much about why people were there.

In addition: those endlessly running clips are a clear instance
of a kind of source pollution that historians are going to have to
deal with more and more. As a witness and participant, I can no longer
separate my memories of that day from the overlay of media coverage
that I have seen since. In general, I think of myself as a pretty
good, self-critical primary source. However, come to think of it, if I
jar my memory -- and a good interviewer could do this -- I can
remember other things not in the media coverage: the Nazi presence,
the threatened railroad strike. I guess that what this adds up to is
that the his- torian dealing with reminiscences of such events must be
extremely careful about separating memory from ovrlay, but that
active, interventionist question- ing can bring back worthwhile
material. I guess that gets us into other ques- tions that I won't get
into here about the frequent passivity of oral history interviewers,
the unwillingness to intervene and quarrel, out of a semi-relig- ious
respect for the folk.
Jesse Lemisch