My name is Al Hulsen, back in 1963 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, I was one of the reporters. At the time, I was a producer and a journalist at WGBH in Boston, and I joined my colleagues from many of the other Educational Radio Network stations; there were people from Boston and New York City, Philadelphia, Washington and elsewhere, and my job was, early in the morning to travel around the Washington area. I spent time at the Washington Monument, at the Lincoln Memorial, at the ellipse, talking to anybody and everybody that might come by.
As the program began, I was at the Washington Monument, had the opportunity to interview Joan Baez, for example, who later did lead everybody in singing the anthem “We Shall Overcome.” But the tape recorder started failing, and the same thing happened a second time. So I recall there was that kind of technical difficulty. But otherwise as soon as we got to the live transmission, it seemed to go flawlessly. Later in the day, I had the enormous privilege of being the announcer for the events that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial.
The one memory that really jumps out is sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and looking forward toward the Washington Monument. There were some 200 to 300,000 people standing there, sitting there; some in the pool, the wading pool, some climbing trees to hear what the speakers at the Lincoln Memorial had to say. It may have been considered to be a very dangerous place to be, but many men and many women came to participate. It was encouraging to know that there was no violence during this march against violence.
I do remember talking with one gentleman who said he was all in favor of the purpose of the March on Washington, but he thought there were too many communists involved. I found that interesting this was during a period when communism was a real threat. I think our goal was to try to reflect reality from A to Z. Whatever was on people's minds, we tried to allow it to be presented there was no coloring of it there was only an attempt to make it fair, to make it equal, to allow views of all sides to be heard.
And I think we have to give great credit to Don Quayle. He was the executive director of the Educational Radio Network, and earlier he had been in charge of the WGBH radio service, and earlier at WOSU in Columbus. And he brought us all together and put together this network that allowed personalities and guests from the entire eastern seaboard, to take a look at what was reality around us.
And I think we have to give also great credit to George Geesey and Roger Penn in Washington, because they handled all the logistics. And of course George Geesey was the overall host of the day. There was also Malcolm Davis in New York, who had also worked for the United Nations, and then there was Susan Stamberg, and there were others that participated in trying to make this a fair presentation of where the country was at this moment with regard to the civil rights movement. In preparing for the broadcast, I worked closely with Don Quayle and with George Geesey; we had many conference calls, we met before the productions began, we met during the course of the production, we met and analyzed our work after the production.
I'm not sure that I remember feeling particularly satisfied at the end of the broadcast, but as time has gone on I realized that this was really a very very important thing to do, and it was a very very important date in the history of public broadcasting. I think in many ways, the Educational Radio Network was a forerunner of National Public Radio. Of course, there were many influences from particularly the Midwest, Big Ten university stations. But the Educational Radio Network really began doing live networking for the first time within the public radio community.
You know, before the March on Washington, the previous year, there was a collaborative effort covering the Cuban missile crisis. And again, resources from throughout the eastern seaboard, and particularly from universities and from diplomatic offices, tried to give a perspective on what was really happening in Cuba and what was the US government doing and what was the Soviet Union doing and what was the United Nations doing. And so much of this was live and interactive.
And beyond the Cuban missile crisis coverage, also begun was a magazine news program that was called Kaleidoscope, and we had a round robin network that allowed people to participate live in studio in Boston, in New York, in Washington, and in Philadelphia. And guests could come in and be interviewed by hosts at any of those four stations. In addition to those four, there were others that were interconnected off the air, in Amherst, Massachusetts, Albany, New York, Schenectady, New York, I believe Richmond, Virginia. But all this preceded National Public Radio, and I think it really had an impetus toward the creation of NPR.
This March occurred approximately 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and now we have gone through virtually another 50 years since that time, and so much has changed, so much has occurred. On a personal note, I recalled shortly before the March on Washington, I had reason to go to Fayetteville, North Carolina. I’m a northern person; I was born on Long Island in New York, and had never experienced the intolerance, really, that’s experienced in the south at that time. And landing at Fayetteville, North Carolina airport, I saw something I had never seen before. When you went into the lobby, there was a separate ticket counter for blacks, and a separate ticket counter for whites. The same was true of the drinking fountain; the same was true of the restroom. So you can really understand even after slavery had been proclaimed illegal for 100 years there still wasn't racial equality. There’s nothing that's more memorable than the “I have a dream” speech of Martin Luther King Jr. He said, “let freedom ring,” and he spoke about being “free at last,” and 50 years from that date, it still rings, it’s still memorable, it’s still important. We have a lot to remember and to thank the people that put this March together.