The book is very short- less than 200 pages long, with large font, wide margins, quotes that are given entire pages, and a lot of pictures. It's more of a long retrospective than a book. It's interesting but not particularly ground-breaking. We don't get much insight into the personalities involved in the March. This is probably because the book is so short, but it was disappointing nonetheless. I did like the way Jones set the book up, though. He says that passing Civil Rights legislation is not about right or wrong, it's about political leverage. Only when politicians feel a great deal of pressure to do something do they actually go out and do it. The March on Washington was the Civil Rights movement's leverage on Washington to pass Civil Rights legislation, and to go further and deeper with it than most elected officials were willing to go.
I read Gail Collins' America's Women some time ago and learned that Rosa Parks and other prominent women in the Civil Rights movement were all but ignored in planning the March. I really wanted to get Jones' perspective on this issue. He was frustratingly vague on it:
In terms of the discourse on the racial environment at the time, the women were virtually exiled from the podium...During the planning stages, we had argued over the role women would play in The March. Ted Brown periodically brought up the question of their participation. When I first heard about the issue, I had an immediate reaction that I kept to myself...The Movement was male dominated, and those males were ego-driven.Ah!! Why can't you just tell us what you really thought, Jones? Why do you still keep your "immediate reaction" to yourself? He goes on to say that he now regrets the decision not to include women (of course- who would say that they did not?), but that wasn't what I wanted.
I was frustrated because it seems like throughout this book, Jones was tiptoeing around issues and trying not to offend anyone that had been involved in the March. He hints that Martin Luther King had a big ego, but never gives us details on how this ego (or anyone else's) affected the March on Washington. I wanted to go much more in-depth and read many more details than Jones gave me.
Jones did provide me with a lot of information I didn't know earlier, though. For example, he points out that "no fundamental change in race relations in America could be accomplished and successfully sustained unless it was done under the political leadership of a white man from the South." This was true in the presidencies of Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The first president to break that trend? Barack Obama. Jones' thoughts on Obama and the state of race relations today were interesting and timely, but I wish he had used that space in the book to give us greater insight into Martin Luther King and the other March planners rather than his thoughts on Obama today.
The coolest part of this book was learning that MLK really just improvised the "I have a dream" portion of his speech. He started the speech by reading almost completely from the notes that Jones had written up for him. But then he went off his notes and straight into history. When you listen to the speech below, I am sure you'll be just as impressed and captivated as I am, especially with the knowledge that none of that was planned in advance. It's a wonderful speech, extremely powerful, and if it resonates so much with us today, via grainy black and white video, just imagine how amazing it must have been to hear it in person.