(During the boycotts) we targeted Rich's since they were the highest profile department store at the time. At the time Rich's said that the protest wasn't a big deal, but I learned later that they lost $10 million in sales that year. That was a lot of money back in the '60s. Hundreds of people closed their accounts or sent us their Rich's credit card so they wouldn't use it. They didn't know us from Adam's house cat, but still they sent them in to us. We put them in the bank deposit box.
We were encouraged to do another group of protests, but it was getting on Easter and the merchants really wanted us to shop downtown again and there were all these businesses that had black owners that wanted the shoppers to come back. There was a real split in the community. The older people in the movement wanted us to give in and call it quits.
Lonnie, Julian, and I knew what we needed to do. I said we need to get Martin Jr. here. He had just been in Alabama and he was sick with a terrible flu. He was at home and he didn't want to come in. But we called and convinced him that he had to be here. He said exactly the right thing. You would have thought that he walked on water after that. In my opinion, that was the best speech he had ever made. He brought us together. He said we could not afford the luxury of discounting the boycott. And the boycott did continue.
Julian Bond: 'I'm so ashamed I didn't take notes'
He was the first African-American nominated as vice president, although he was too young to accept. He was an outspoken member of the Georgia Legislature. He's even hosted "Saturday Night Live." But long before any of that, Julian Bond helped lead one of the first student sit-ins in Atlanta, where he was a student of King. To explain the protests, he and other students, including Charles Black, wrote "An Appeal for Human Rights," which ran as a full-page ad in the Atlanta newspapers and The New York Times.
At the March on Washington, Bond passed out copies of John Lewis' speech, which movement leaders made him tone down for fear of offending the president. Listed as "Horace J. Bond" on the roster for King's class, he disagrees with his old friend and classmate Charles Black. He didn't think King was a "little boring." To him the class was a good philosophical grounding for a life's work in civil rights.
I wouldn't call it boring, not at all; it was a survey course on the great philosophers like Plato and Aristotle. My memory of the class was not a strict study of the philosophers, though. We read them -- there was an awful lot of reading -- but mostly the class would use them as a kind of jumping off point to then talk about the civil rights movement and about what happened in Montgomery. I'm so ashamed I didn't take notes. A lot of my memory of the specifics of the class has all vanished.
(King) was certainly known, but he was not nearly as famous then as he became, and he certainly didn't act like a famous person. That was my feeling in being in that class and listening to him. He was important. He definitely seemed like an important person, and he was important in my life. I knew even at the time that I was privileged to learn from him, but he never made us feel as if he was that important. That's not what it was about.
When we started our plans (for the sit-in protest), I talked it over with my parents. They were a little worried about it. I remember my parents always told us growing up that whatever you do, don't get arrested. Getting arrested is like getting a tattoo on your forehead, they said; you will not get a job. Turned out that wasn't completely true. Thankfully.
While we were training and building toward sitting in, Dr. Rufus Clement -- who was the president of Atlanta University and the collection of black colleges -- heard about it. On campus you can't have any secrets, I learned. And he called us into his office. He said, "I can't stop you, but you ought to tell people why you are doing this." So together with a couple of other students we wrote the statement ("An Appeal for Human Rights").
It was a little scary to be doing this. We were kind of the good kids, and our parents always told us not to get in trouble, but this is something we knew we needed to do. We didn't know what would happen as a consequence. We didn't know if we would be treated badly or beaten, but we had to do this.
I led a group of people who went to the Atlanta City Hall cafeteria. It was in the basement. We walked in with about 20 of us, men and women. We saw black women working over at the steam tables, and they had both looks of fear and admiration. They had heard about it ahead of time, and so they were nervous already. The woman who I later found out was the manager was sitting in front of the cafeteria at the table and she said, "I'm awful sorry, this is for city hall employees only." I responded, "The sign out front said that the public is welcome." She said, "We don't mean it." So I told her, "I will stand here until you do." The police came and arrested us.
There were 200 of us arrested all around Atlanta that day. Because so many of us had been arrested, they decided to try one of us from each of our groups. I was chosen from my group, and for the first time I found myself standing in front of a judge.
The judge bonded me over to a grand jury, and some well-to-do people in Atlanta paid our bail and we got out of jail. Then I immediately went with a couple of other guys straight over to Spelman where my heroism could be reflected in the eyes of all those beautiful co-eds.
I never got arrested again in Atlanta, during that time period anyway. I did get arrested some years later outside the South African embassy protesting apartheid. Just this year I was arrested at the White House protesting the Keystone pipeline, hoping to convince President Obama that shouldn't happen.
As I hear about the anniversary for the march, I have been thinking about what it was like. I remember listening to all the speakers. We all had different assignments. One of my assignments was passing out John Lewis' speech -- the one he wrote, not the one he had to edit and ultimately give.
I thought his speech would be the one that stood out. I remember his was the only one to use the word "black" people or citizens, I think. This was radical at the time. We were not calling ourselves Negros or colored people.
I also had a fun job. I was in charge of giving Coca-Cola's to the movie stars. I remember giving one to Sammy Davis Jr. and he pointed his finger like a gun at me and said, "Thanks." I don't really remember talking to any of the others, but I saw them and was excited to be around them. There was Burt Lancaster and Harry Belafonte and Joan Baez and Bob Dylan.
The Rev. Amos Brown: 'More intense than my other studies'
His church is known as Ebenezer of the West. A San Francisco fixture for more than 160 years, it's been visited by presidents and international dignitaries and has provided food, housing and help for those in need. But before he became pastor at Third Baptist Church, the Rev. Amos Brown was mentored by civil rights activist Medgar Evers.
Brown first met King in San Francisco after riding with Evers cross-country to an NAACP meeting, where the 15-year-old Brown was a youth leader from Mississippi. Here he recalls King's class and the sit-ins taking place in Atlanta at the time:
The class was in the chapel on the second floor. What I remember most from that class is Rousseau's "Social Contract." I actually have the notes from that class written in Dr. King's own hand. They are in an old Blue Horse notebook that cost 25 cents. You know that's got to be old then, right? There is also an interesting price list in his hand. It looks like he was raising money for an event.
We also learned about Plato's "Republic" and Kant and Hume. Also I remember we talked a lot about Dr. (Edgar) Brightman at Boston University, whose writings had a great influence on Dr. King when he talked about personalism -- the idea that every person was imbued with worth and dignity and metaphysics.
The class itself was a little more intense than my other studies, and yet we related the experiences we had in the context of this philosophy.
I had already been to jail with Dr. King and his brother. We all got sent to the prison farm to work. We were there for 10 days. But we continued staging sit-ins at Rich's (department store) and Woolworth. It was incredible. But the class itself, it was a little more intense, especially the moments in which we related the experiences that we had.
We also had a kneel-in at the white First Baptist Church. Kids from Georgia Tech and Spelman and Morehouse decided to go in. I organized it. I was privy to the floor plan and knew to sit right up front. Other students who had stayed in the back got thrown right out with the aid of the ushers. They let those of us in the front stay since the TV cameras were there.
I actually met my wife-to-be on the steps of that church. She was one of the Spelman students who was thrown out. After that I helped organize several other protests. We integrated Savannah beach. We called that one a "wade-in."
When I interviewed to go to school at Morehouse, I knew that's where I wanted to be. When I got in, I had a professor who was the same speech teacher that taught Dr. King. I was so happy -- I got A's in that class. But when (King) took it he didn't do so well. Can you imagine? I had been speaking for a while though.
When I was 17 years old, I gave my first sermon. I still remember it to this day. I talked about how important it was to stay true, how important it was not being disobedient to the vision. I urged them to take a stand others can't see.
Graham Prindle: 'A hot spring of ideas'
After graduating from high school, Graham Prindle hit the road with a friend. They were hitchhiking to all four corners of the country. It was in the South where Prindle, who is white, said he first really understood racism. The "colored only" signs left him deeply disturbed. He had been involved in a youth movement, the National Student Association -- which he says was "a CIA front" -- but his first serious act to support civil rights was to quit a good-paying job in New York and move to Atlanta to take King's class.
He would only spend a year at Morehouse; eventually he completed an undergraduate degree at Antioch. He went on to work at IBM as a computer programmer and spent many years in San Francisco witnessing the radical changes the youth movement brought. But he says that semester in King's class was one of the most important times in his life.
I guess I didn't ever picture myself in a classroom full of black people in Atlanta until about two weeks before it happened. I was low-profile on purpose in there. I said something to my sister about it recently: Instead of being a fly on the wall there, maybe I should have been thought of as a white moth.
When I met Dr. King in this class, I think it hadn't been more than a year since he had come up from Montgomery to be associate pastor of his dad's church, and this was the first time he was living full-time in Atlanta. When they got wind of that, I'm told, the people at Morehouse recruited him to teach this course.
The class itself was a pretty open discussion. Dr. King was not pushing a particular viewpoint so much as exploring the possible viewpoints of social philosophy. The question that kept coming up from the students is, "Is nonviolence just a tactic you deploy when your adversary is susceptible to it? Or is it a piece of ideology you hold to for other reasons?" He never definitively came down on one side or the other but encouraged the discussion of the viewpoints between the rest of us.
Some may have worried that the class was a recruiting tool or something for the movement, but it was less of a recruiting tool than you might think. Most of the people in the class had already been recruited for the movement.
I don't remember any problem of getting into the class when I enrolled at Morehouse. I think you just signed up. Somehow you worked out a roster of classes, and it was no harder than the others to get into. A little footwork was also done on my behalf.
But the class, it was different. There were so many ideas. For most of it he was sitting down at a desk. He did not lecture; he did not speechify at us. That was one of my few reservations about taking the class, that I was going to get preached at for the semester. But no, he absolutely was self-effacing, at least to my retrospective view, and I was keeping a low profile trying to get a sense of what people in the class, the Julian Bond generation, were feeling. He was very light-handed about it and let people talk.
You know, I didn't see a great deal of him, the real him, in his public persona, except in television later on, of course. My sense is that he had the preacherly tradition on the one hand, and that came through in his voice and his mannerisms in public, and then there was this political or philosophical openness to good ideas.
It certainly struck me as a sane and civilized way of teaching, and I stayed a little bit braced against the preacherly until I saw how he was doing the class, and I was just relaxed then. I tell you I paid less attention to him than I did to the students. I was interested in the variety of viewpoints and stages of thought that people were going through, and he facilitated that in a way that if he had been running the class, I wouldn't have been able to get that sense.