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Nobody Turn Me Around
Cover of Nobody Turn Me Around
Nobody Turn Me Around
A People's History of the 1963 March on Washington
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On August 28, 1963, over a quarter-million people—about two-thirds black and one-third white—held the greatest civil rights demonstration ever. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his iconic "I Have a Dream" oration. And just blocks away, President Kennedy and Congress skirmished over landmark civil rights legislation. As Charles Euchner reveals, the importance of the march is more profound and complex than standard treatments of the 1963 March on Washington allow.

In this major reinterpretation of the Great Day—the peak of the movement—Euchner brings back the tension and promise of that day. Building on countless interviews, archives, FBI files, and private recordings, Euchner shows freedom fighters as complex, often conflicted, characters. He explores the lives of Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, the march organizers who worked tirelessly to make mass demonstrations and nonviolence the cornerstone of the movement. He also reveals the many behind-the-scenes battles—the effort to get women speakers onto the platform, John Lewis's damning speech about the federal government, Malcolm X's biting criticisms and secret vows to help the movement, and the devastating undercurrents involving political powerhouses Kennedy and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. For the first time, Euchner tells the story behind King's "Dream" images.

Euchner's hour-by-hour account offers intimate glimpses of the masses on the National Mall—ordinary people who bore the scars of physical violence and jailings for fighting for basic civil rights. The event took on the call-and-response drama of a Southern church service, as King, Lewis, Mahalia Jackson, Roy Wilkins, and others challenged the throng to destroy Jim Crow once and for all.

Nobody Turn Me Around will challenge your understanding of the March on Washington, both in terms of what happened but also regarding what it ultimately set in motion. The result was a day that remains the apex of the civil rights movement—and the beginning of its decline.
On August 28, 1963, over a quarter-million people—about two-thirds black and one-third white—held the greatest civil rights demonstration ever. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his iconic "I Have a Dream" oration. And just blocks away, President Kennedy and Congress skirmished over landmark civil rights legislation. As Charles Euchner reveals, the importance of the march is more profound and complex than standard treatments of the 1963 March on Washington allow.

In this major reinterpretation of the Great Day—the peak of the movement—Euchner brings back the tension and promise of that day. Building on countless interviews, archives, FBI files, and private recordings, Euchner shows freedom fighters as complex, often conflicted, characters. He explores the lives of Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, the march organizers who worked tirelessly to make mass demonstrations and nonviolence the cornerstone of the movement. He also reveals the many behind-the-scenes battles—the effort to get women speakers onto the platform, John Lewis's damning speech about the federal government, Malcolm X's biting criticisms and secret vows to help the movement, and the devastating undercurrents involving political powerhouses Kennedy and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. For the first time, Euchner tells the story behind King's "Dream" images.

Euchner's hour-by-hour account offers intimate glimpses of the masses on the National Mall—ordinary people who bore the scars of physical violence and jailings for fighting for basic civil rights. The event took on the call-and-response drama of a Southern church service, as King, Lewis, Mahalia Jackson, Roy Wilkins, and others challenged the throng to destroy Jim Crow once and for all.

Nobody Turn Me Around will challenge your understanding of the March on Washington, both in terms of what happened but also regarding what it ultimately set in motion. The result was a day that remains the apex of the civil rights movement—and the beginning of its decline.
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  • From the book

    P RO LOGUE
    The Longest March

    ON A PITCH-BLACK NIGHT, a crescent moon barely visible in the sky, three teenaged boys walked along the gentle slopes of Highland Avenue on the edge of Lookout Mountain, then to U.S. Highway 11, north of their hometown of Gadsden, Alabama.

    The oldest, a seventeen-year-old named Frank Thomas, led. The two younger ones, a sixteen-year-old named James Foster Smith and a fifteenyear- old named Robert Avery, walked ten or twenty feet behind. James and Robert tried to stay out of earshot of Frank.

    Tall and lean, these boys became men during the summer. They didn't just play football in the street, act in school plays, walk up to the waterfall, or hang out on Sixth Street. They traveled the world, places like New York, Atlanta, and Birmingham. They learned from some of the legendary figures of the civil rights movement, like Julian Bond and John Lewis. They confronted the white supremacist mobs in the Gadsden demonstrations.

    "Are we really doing this?" one of the younger ones said as they trudged along the road. "He's going to turn back," the other answered.

    At about ten o'clock at night, the teenagers began a journey of 675 miles to the nation's capital. They carried a sign reading "To Washington or Bust." Now, after midnight, they wondered whether they would really walk to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the grand finale of the civil rights movement in the sweltering summer of 1963.

    Earlier that night, they gathered at Sip Harris's nightclub, one of the regular meeting places of the Gadsden Movement. James and Robert had just gotten home from a two-week trip to New York, where they raised funds for the movement by speaking about their experiences down south. Over Cokes, they told Frank about the famous people they met. Frank missed out on New York. He wanted one last adventure before starting school again.

    "The March on Washington is coming up," Frank said. "Man, I sure would like to go."

    "Yeah, but we ain't got no money," Robert said.

    "Well," Frank said, "I been thinking of hitchhiking. I want to go bad."

    "Hey, that's a good idea. We could do that."

    The conversation continued for a few hours. They debated whether their parents would let them set out on foot for Washington, D.C., without any real plan or money. They talked about how long it might take to walk. They didn't know whether they could hitchhike rides.

    "It's going to take a long time," Robert said. "That's a long way."

    "We have to leave now to get there in time," Frank said.

    Then they stood up. Someone offered a ride to James's house in East Gadsden, then to Robert's house, near another nightclub and church where the civil rights movement gathered. It took a while to persuade James's parents, but Robert's mother said yes right away. Then they walked to Frank's house and convinced his parents.

    Then they walked up the mountain road, at the foot of Lookout Mountain. The road into the mountain begins long and straight, then twists every hundred yards or so on the way up, then straightens out again at the plateau.

    Good thing it was dark out and everyone was sleeping. The road to Noccalula Falls was not necessarily the worst part of town for blacks, but no white parts of town were good for blacks in the summer of 1963.

    "Are we really doing this?"

    "I don't know. I think so."

    "This fool is joking."

    "He's going to turn around."

    Frank turned around.

    "Come on up. Get up."

    They passed a big...

About the Author-
  • Charles Euchner is the author or editor of eight books. A lecturer in writing at Yale University, Euchner was the founding executive director of the Rappaport In­stitute for Greater Boston at Harvard University. He lives in Hamden, Connecticut.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 3, 2010
    On August 28, 1963, a quarter of a million people converged on the nation’s capital for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Martin Luther King, whose “I Have a Dream” speech highlighted the occasion, called it “the greatest demonstration for freedom in the nation’s history.” Yale writing instructor Euchner (The Last Nine Innings) presents “a pointillist portrait” of the occasion, drawing material from historical records and taking oral histories from more than 100 participants. Although 1963 was the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, racial segregation remained deeply entrenched in the nation’s South, and one specific, practical goal of the march was to desegregate restaurants and hotels. The Kennedy administration mobilized extensive military and police resources, but march leaders, including principal organizer Bayard Rustin and longtime civil rights activist Asa Philip Randolph, were confident (and accurate) in their belief that a peaceful mass demonstration of this scale was not only possible but could change the course of race relations in America. With deft brushstrokes, Euchner not only captures the myriad dimensions of the march itself but places it in its larger historical context, including the escalating war in Vietnam.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from May 1, 2010
    A short but dynamic account of the landmark 1963 protest march that ended with Martin Luther King Jr.'s"I Have a Dream" speech.

    Euchner (Writing/Yale Univ.; Little League, Big Dreams: Inside the Hope, the Hype and the Glory of the Greatest World Series Ever Played, 2006, etc.) masterfully paints what he calls a"pointillist portrait" of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which took place on Aug. 28, 1963. Drawing from interviews and diligent research, the author not only provides humanizing portraits of the major figures—including King, activist Bayard Rustin and march organizer A. Philip Randolph—he also effectively portrays ordinary marchers, both black and white. He accomplishes this through a kaleidoscopic collection of telling details, many of which serve to bring the often overly idealized March on Washington into focus. Euchner relates the friction among leaders of the civil-rights movement (Malcolm X ridiculed the March as the"Farce on Washington"); how a prominent Catholic leader nearly pulled out of the event because he felt activist John Lewis's speech was too radical; how expert sabotage of an expensive sound system caused a last-minute crisis; and how some of King's advisors urged him not to use his"I Have a Dream" speech, which they felt was trite. The author also engagingly portrays the rank-and-file marchers, combining inspirational stories—including that of an old black man, Joseph Freeman, who left Washington after escaping a racist mob in 1919, returning in 1963 for the march—with well-chosen, seemingly banal details, such as the fact that protesters on buses in Harlem complained loudly about the lack of air conditioning. Most impressive is Euchner's amazing economy in telling this story; in just over 200 pages, he provides a wholly satisfying, comprehensive view of the March.

    A sharp, riveting depiction of"what Martin Luther King called the greatest demonstration for freedom in the nation's history."

    (COPYRIGHT (2010) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    June 1, 2010
    Euchner (English, Yale Univ.; "The Last Nine Innings") tells the story of the August 1963 march on Washington as the compelling drama it was: organizing 100,000 people for civil rights required coordinating speakers with multiple alliances and agendas within one peaceful mass-action event. Enter lead organizer Bayard Taylor Rustin, portrayed as the hero who brought together the march through unprecedented planning and coordination. Rustin's challenge rested in keeping the alliances of numerous organizations together. He worked to temper the speech of John Lewis, a representative from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, whose message became more radical as it faced an unflinching deep southern segregationist challenge to its organizing efforts. Malcolm X was also on hand during the march. As a "people's history," the book's sources include Euchner's interviews with over 100 individuals, both known and unknown, who participated in the march. VERDICT This compelling history of the march on Washington is accessible to general readers, who will be moved at the emotional heights of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech. Those who enjoy popular history will find much to like here, and students will appreciate the original research.Jim Hahn, Univ. of Illinois Lib., Urbana

    Copyright 2010 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Vanessa Bush, Booklist

    "A sweeping, comprehensive look at a pivotal march in American history."

  • Kirkus Reviews, starred review "A short but dynamic account of the landmark 1963 protest march that ended with Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech."
  • Library Journal "This compelling history of the march on Washington is accessible to general readers, who will be moved at the emotional heights of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech. Those who enjoy popular history will find much to like here, and students will appreciate the original research."
  • John Egerton, author of Speak Now Against the Day: The Generation Before the Civil Rights Movement in the South "Charles Euchner has turned the March on Washington into a 'people's history.' Compelling and dramatic, this book is an important contribution." --Juan Williams, author of Eyes On The Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954--1965 and news analyst for NPR and FOX News "The March on Washington was a demand to make the Constitution of the United States work for black people--to cash the blank check, as Dr. King put it that day in the best speech of his life. Nobody Turn Me Around--Charles Euchner's superb book--brings it all back in vivid detail." --Roger Wilkins, author of Jefferson's Pillow: The Founding Fathers and the Dilemma of Black Patriotism "As was true of the historic March on Washington in 1963, so it is true of Charles Euchner's riveting new chronicle of the event: the massive human train of proud and determined Americans--ordinary, salt-of-the-earth citizens--is the heart and soul of this dramatic and inspiring story. Now, more than forty-five years later, those same people stride through Euchner's narrative as if it were a march in progress. The stars are here too, of course--Martin Luther King, Bayard Rustin, Roy Wilkins, John Lewis, and more--but the pages crackle and vibrate with the voices of unsung heroes who drove, flew, rode buses and trains, hitchhiked, even walked long distances to be there in the Great Emancipator's stone shadow as Dr. King spun out his immortal 'Dream.'"
  • Curtis Wilkie, author of Dixie: A Personal Odyssey Through Events That Shaped the Modern South "Nobody Turn Me Around brings important new insight to the story of the 1963 March on Washington. We see the Harlem Unity Rally, Malcolm X's bitter answer to the historic events in D.C., the escalating violence in the South and the movement's expansion to northern cities, and the genius of Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin's organizing strategies. The book also settles the question of how Martin Luther King Jr. came to utter his iconic words about the dream--and shows how King used the speech to arouse his followers and neutralize the extremes of white racism and black separatism. Vivid storytelling at its best." --Alex Heard, author of The Eyes of Willie McGee: A Tragedy of Race, Sex, and Secrets in the Jim Crow South "Nearly fifty years after the March on Washington, Charles Euchner has brought that historic event back to life by presenting a panorama of vivid characters, torn by discord over tactics yet united in their determination to shame a timorous government into stamping out Jim Crow."
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