From King to Obama:Witness to a Turbulent History

From King to Obama:Witness to a Turbulent History

by Earl Ofari Hutchinson

ISBN: 9780692370711

Publisher Middle Passage Press

Published in Biographies & Memoirs/Memoirs, Nonfiction/Politics, Biographies & Memoirs, Nonfiction

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Book Description

Meet Martin Luther King, Jr, Cesar Chavez, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Alex Haley, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix and many more in From King to Obama: Witness to a Turbulent History.

Sample Chapter


Coming of Age in America

It was May 31, 1964. I was 18 and my father said that he’d like for me to go with him to an event at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He said it would be an event that I would long remember. He was right. It was one of those pitch perfect spring days in Los Angeles with a slight morning overcast haze that at that time of the year always burned off by mid-day.

When we pulled into the Coliseum parking lot, I was immediately struck by the size and bustle of the throng that streamed through the gates. It looked like a little United Nations. There were whites, blacks, Asians, and Hispanics. Many of those who rushed by me wore clerical collars, and priestly garments. This was fitting since I noted that there were a large number of priests and nuns among the crowd. They were readily recognizable and familiar to me in their garb. For nine years I had attended two Catholic elementary schools and then Mt. Carmel High school in my freshman year. The schools were on Chicago’s South Side.

I realized that this was an event that was special and that it had to do with civil rights. The scenes of blacks marching, picketing, and being assaulted by club welding Southern cops, and Confederate flag-waving white toughs, had become commonplace viewing on the nightly news in 1964. The scenes were jarringly etched into my consciousness. The names of the civil rights battlegrounds had become almost household names; Jackson, Mississippi, Birmingham, Alabama, St. Augustine, Florida, Albany, Georgia, and Greensboro, North Carolina. A year earlier, Mississippi NAACP field director Medgar Evers was gunned down in Jackson and the shooter was a white Citizens Council member, Byron de la Beckwith. After two trials, an all-white jury refused to convict him. This was standard fare then when civil rights workers were maimed or killed. Southern white juries with rare exceptions never convicted them.

Though I was a high school student in Los Angeles then, the one name that had become the watchword for the civil rights struggle was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His name was constantly mentioned with reverence by my parents. The event that my father was determined that I attend with him was billed as a “Religious Witness for Human Dignity.” I knew from the many religious types who were in the crowd this was a multi-faith event. Shortly after being seated, all eyes turned to the main Coliseum tunnel entrance. I had played high school football and had attended several L.A. Rams games. In those days the Rams played their home games at the Coliseum. The Rams players had burst through this tunnel onto the playing field. It wasn’t the Rams that emerged from the tunnel that day, though. Instead, there was a slow procession of priests, rabbis, and protestant ministers that marched solemnly out of the tunnel onto the Coliseum running track. The crowd immediately roared when they marched into view.

All eyes were immediately locked on the small, short, nattily-dressed man at the head of the procession. Despite the processional’s somber mood, the man whom everyone intently watched. smiled broadly and waved to the cheering crowd. We were seated in the front section near the railing. Like many others in the crowd, I stared at Dr. King with a mix of awe and wonderment. This smallish man was the unrivaled symbol of a movement which had grown to global importance and dominated the talk at dinner tables in millions of homes. It also stirred much talk, debate and rancor in many statehouses especially in the South, the halls of Congress and the White House. The debate over civil rights had at one both divided and united blacks and whites as no other cause had done in decades.


I personally don't remember much of what Dr. King told the gathering that day. I do remember that he spoke from a lectern in the center of the playing field. Behind him, there sat a row of black and white ministers. King’s speech that day though was not lost. A digitized version of his forty-minute address was unearthed in January 2013. It has been carefully preserved in the archives at Pepperdine University.

I remembered, though, that nine months earlier, on August 28, 1963, I watched on TV as he electrified the crowd estimated at a quarter million in Washington D.C. and the nation with his ” I Have a Dream” speech. Almost certainly, he struck many of the same themes in his speech that day; the fight against segregation, poverty, the battle for civil rights, a reiteration of his commitment to non-violent resistance. These were the staple themes in all of his speeches. The rally at the Coliseum came little more than a month before the passage of the 1964 civil rights bill, on July 2. I’m sure that King implored the crowd to put fire under Congress to end the infuriating and dogged filibuster that rabid Southern Democrats and Northern GOP conservatives used to bottle up the bill.

There was a heightened sense of urgency that day as King spoke that Congress needed one more big push to break the filibuster and pass the landmark bill. King’s appearance at the Coliseum was designed to further provide that impetus. It was part of his national swing to rally support and public opinion and to enlist the support of religious leaders in that battle. As it turned out, his speech at the Coliseum that late May Day would prove invaluable as a means of rallying support in Los Angeles for civil rights. As the rally ended, the crowd joined in a lusty, full throated singing of the movement’s anthem, "We Shall Overcome." I joined in too. I knew as I stood at almost arms-length from King as he walked past me on the track that I, along with the thousands others in the Coliseum that day, had been witness to the making of another signal event in history.


Excerpted from "From King to Obama:Witness to a Turbulent History" by Earl Ofari Hutchinson. Copyright © 2015 by Earl Ofari Hutchinson. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a nationally acclaimed author and social issues commentator. He is a syndicated columnist and a feature contributor to the Huffington Post. His columns have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and the San Francisco Chronicle.   Hutchinson is the author of ten books on race and social change in America. He is the National Political Writer for New America Media and the Los Angeles Wave Newspaper. He hosts two syndicated public affairs and issues radio talk shows on KTYM Radio and KPFK Pacifica Network Radio Los Angeles, and a weekly commentator on the Radio-One Network.He is also a guest MSNBC Political Analyst.

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