Great Cultural Icons Talk Civil Rights: James Baldwin, Marlon Brando, Harry Belafonte & Sidney Poitier (1963)




On the day of the historic “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” (August 28, 1963), known today as The Great March on Washington (watch it on YouTube in three parts), CBS aired a 30-minute roundtable discussion featuring James Baldwin, Marlon Brando, Harry Belafonte, Charlton Heston, Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Sidney Poitier.

The whole segment is fascinating, even and perhaps especially because the speakers pursue their sometimes divergent agendas (Heston speaks optimistically about peaceful dissent, Brando hopes the Civil Rights movement may lead to reparations for Native Americans, while Belafonte warns ominously that the United States has now reached a “point of no return”). But it may be Joseph Mankiewicz, the sharp-witted writer/director of All About Eve, who provides one of the discussion’s pithiest lines: “Freedom, true freedom,” he says, “is not given by governments; it is taken by the people.”

For a very different take on the events of the day, you can listen to audio of the famous speech Malcolm X delivered a few months later, “A Message to the Grass Roots,” in which he calls the march a “circus,” and its black leaders “[Uncle] Toms.”

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