Interview with Harry McPherson
QUESTION 24
PAUL STECKLER:

Martin Luther King is going around the country talking about bringing poor people to Washington, ah, he's recruiting poor people, he's going to bring them here and he's saying he's going to let them stay here till something happens. How does the White House react to this? What do they think?

HARRY MCPHERSON:

Martin Luther King announced that there would be Poor People's March on Washington and, and, the, ah, reaction in the White House, ah, was one of, of a kind of, ah, shoulder sinking, ah, I won't say despair, but, ah, ah, the reaction of the White House was a very unhappy one. The, the notion of people coming across the bridge in their wagons and camping the mall, camping in Lafayette Square just across Pennsylvania Avenue, from the White House, that image of hundreds and hundred of people, ah, representing the poor but also, ah, ah, seeming to be that the tools of a political leadership that was seeking to put pressure on the government to bring about change that could not be brought about overnight. As a matter, it was a time of enormous frustration. Here, you have started these Great Society programs, they are having some good benefits. The country is torn up.

PAUL STECKLER:

We're running out of film again. The magazine's rolling out.



PAUL STECKLER:

King is making his announcements about bringing the poor to Washington, D.C. What's the reaction?

HARRY MCPHERSON:

When Martin Luther King announced that Ralph Abernathy and hundreds of people would march on Washington in a Poor People's March, would camp, it turned out, on, on the mall, ah, and in Lafayette Square right across from the White House. Our shoulders sagged. They were going to ask for things that we couldn't provide. Ah, and they were going, by camping in the holy ground of the mall, and, Lafayette Square, ah, they were going to alienate an awful lot of people. They were going to make a lot of people mad. People who were already growing restive. Ah, the, the first effects of the affirmative action programs were being felt in the country. A lot of White people, a lot of White workers were getting sore from, with a feeling that they were being bypassed in order, not through any fault of their own, but in order to advance Blacks who had been held down. So that the, the temper was not a good one. I can tell you that from within the White House, sitting in the West Wing, with, ah, windows open, ah, you could hear people singing "We Shall Overcome", ah, in the tents in Lafayette Square which, ah, was mixed in on occasion with the sounds of people chanting along Pennsylvania Avenue, "Hey, Hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" So, you had the anti-war protesters on Pennsylvania Avenue and the anti-poverty protesters on, in Lafayette Square. Ah, both of them asking for, ah, immediate change. Ah, and out in the country you had the, the polls, the public opinion polls changing pretty radically and people getting more and more angry, more and more looking for a President who would bring the war to a quick end, for the most part, by winning it militarily. And, ah, perhaps also a President who would enforce order in the cities where there were riots.