Resurrection City, 40 Years Later

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NPR's Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr reflects on the 40-year anniversary of Resurrection City in Washington, D.C.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

DAN SCHORR: There's been a lot of looking back to 1968, a year that was pregnant with drama.

HANSEN: NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: It was the year that both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy were assassinated. It was the year of an angry confrontation between police and anti-war protestors at the Democratic convention in Chicago. The year that President Johnson decided not to run for reelection and Richard Nixon made a comeback from his defeat in 1960.

I've been reflecting on the 40-year anniversary of Resurrection City, a melancholy moment in American history. In late 1967, Dr. King had come to Washington to announce that there would be a poor people's march to dramatize poverty in America. Dr. King himself didn't live to see that march, but May 1968 thousands of poor people from all over the country, some in mule-drawn wagons, came to Washington, put up plywood shacks near the Lincoln Memorial. This turned out to be a disaster.

Heavy rains turned the ground into a quagmire. There was no way of providing an adequate food supply. The Reverend Jesse Jackson led a march to the Department of Agriculture and there the poor people loaded food onto trays in the basement cafeteria and then deliberately walked out without paying.

Dr. King's successor, the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, didn't stay with the marchers. He'd checked into a more comfortable hotel. It was while the poor people were camped there that Senator Kennedy, who had made poverty his cause, was assassinated and that took the heart out of Resurrection City.

In the end, Roger Wilkins of the Justice Department brokered a graceful exit from the debacle. Some of the poor people would march up to Capitol Hill and then they'd be arrested, and they'd spend a few nights in jail before being released.

I walked to that hill with Jesse Jackson, who chanted along with the marchers I am somebody; I am somebody. I remember all that vividly.

This is Daniel Schorr.

HANSEN: Dan, I'm popping up in the studio to keep you here for just a moment because we want to mark Father's Day. And I know your dad died when you were young. That's...

SCHORR: He died when I was five years old.

HANSEN: Do you have any memories of him?

SCHORR: I have one clear memory of him. Mind you, he was about 35 years old when he died and I've forgotten an awful lot about him in all those years. But one thing I do remember: that he used to play the violin standing and walking through the living room, and I would lie down with my stomach on the floor with my chin in my hand listening to him.

And if you can believe this, I can remember to this day what he played.

HANSEN: What did he play?

SCHORR: He played Dvorak's "Humoresque." He'd go...

(Soundbite of humming)

SCHORR: Maybe I invented it but in my mind I remember it.

HANSEN: What was his name?

SCHORR: His name was Louie.

HANSEN: Well, Happy Father's Day, Dan.

SCHORR: Well, thank you. You've helped to make it so.

(Soundbite of Dvorak's "Humoresque")

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