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Motown Records' Magical Year

Rock historian Ed Ward says that 1964 was a "magical year" for Motown Records.

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Other segments from the episode on January 15, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 15, 2007: Interview with Michael Honey; Commentary on Motown Records in 1964.

Transcript

DATE January 15, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Michael Honey, professor of labor studies in American
History at University of Washington-Tacoma, talks about his new
book, "Going Down Jericho Road," about campaign Martin Luther
King Jr. was working on when he was murdered
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

One of the things I've come to associate with Martin Luther King Day is the
publication of books offering new insights into King and the civil rights
movement. My guest Michael Honey has written a new book about a campaign King
was working on when he was murdered. As Honey points out, although many
people know that King died in Memphis, many don't know what he was doing
there. He was joining forces with 1300 black sanitation workers who were
striking for the right to unionize. The strikers and their supporters turned
Memphis upside down for 65 days in the winter of 1968. King saw his work in
Memphis as part of a new direction in the civil rights movement, emphasizing
economic equality. He said, "We know that it isn't enough to integrate lunch
counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch
counter if he doesn't earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of
coffee?"

Michael Honey's new book is called "Going Down Jericho Road." Honey is a
professor of labor studies in American History at the University of
Washington, Tacoma. I spoke with him about King and the sanitation workers
strike.

Why did he think the cause in Memphis was a good cause for him to take on?

Mr. MICHAEL HONEY: Well, you know, a lot of people didn't want him to go to
Memphis because he was overwhelmed with what he was trying to do in the poor
people's campaign. He was traveling constantly, sleeping four hours a night.
Unbelievable schedule, two or three different places in the day he'd be
speaking. So his staff wanted him not to go to Memphis because, in the past,
he had gotten involved in local community movements in just this way where he
stopped to give a speech, next thing you know he's in jail. Next thing you
know is he's leading the movement in that place. And they were trying to
avoid that happening. But, he said, `Here are 1300 people who are working
full-time jobs at part-time wages. They're living in poverty. This is the
working poor. This is what the Poor People's Campaign is all about. How can
I not go to Memphis?' And so he did.

GROSS: Had he been connected to the labor movement before this?

Mr. HONEY: Yeah. You know, that's one of the really interesting things I've
been finding in my research is that he makes connections to the unions as soon
as the Montgomery bus boycott happened in 1955 through E.D. Nixon, who was
the local organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Union, and then
A. Philip Randolph, who was the famous national leader of that union. And
from there, he makes connections to Walter Ruther and the UAW, the
packinghouse workers union, and a whole array of unions across the country.
And then he--I've got all his speeches before unions. He spoke to unions
constantly. And his main purpose was to try to cement an alliance between the
labor movement and the civil rights movement.

GROSS: What was the Memphis sanitation workers strike about? And what set
off the strike?

Mr. HONEY: It was about really this dignity for these workers and dignity
for African Americans in a city that was still tied to the old plantation ways
and thought it had solved its race problems but really hadn't and was very
much a paternalist, top-down, good old boy system. And Mayor Henry Loeb sort
of represented that, you know, just sort of unconscious white supremacy. But
in terms of the strike, what set it off was just horrible working conditions.

GROSS: Why don't you describe the conditions?

Mr. HONEY: Well, most of these people worked as they identified them as
casual laborers, and so they had no set hours. They could come in and work
for six, eight, 10, 12 hours, until the job was done. They were never sure
how much they were going to be paid for that work. They didn't have pensions.
They didn't have vacations. They didn't have most of the things you would
think you would have with a full-time job. And they were very expendable.
They could be fired on a moment's notice. People were hurt all the time. It
was before mechanization, so they were carrying these heavy tubs on their
heads, lifting things up, hernias, broken backs, all kinds of injuries. And
on top of that, they were making poverty level wages. Forty percent of those
workers in the sanitation department were on welfare even while they were
working full-time jobs.

So the conditions were just abominable and really reminiscent of the
plantations. And the white supervise--all the supervisors were white and they
treated the workers, all of whom were black, much like plantation owners
treated slaves.

GROSS: And right before the strike, weren't two sanitation workers killed on
the job in part because of outmoded equipment?

Mr. HONEY: Yeah. This is what really precipitated it. You know, they
struck in February of 1968, February 12th, Lincoln's birthday, which is not a
time to go on strike. If you're going to strike in sanitation, you do it in
summer when the garbage is going to pile up and, you know, it's going to smell
and people are going to want to get it off the street. They did it in
February because they were angry and they said, `We weren't thinking about
wages so much as thinking about justice.'

And what happened was two guys who were working on the trucks were crushed to
death by the garbage packer. And the reason that happened was that, one, was
the equipment was outmoded and Henry Lobe, who was the mayor, refused to
invest money in providing newer equipment. So they were basically up in the
back of this packer, trying to get out of the weather, and the packer started,
and they were mashed up like garbage. Horrible. You know, one of the men
almost escaped. An eyewitness said, `Well, he was pulling--he was getting out
and then the thing snagged his jacket. Back he went and they were both ground
up like garbage.' And so that was one precipitating factor.

And another was on a rainy day, people went to work and they stayed around for
a couple of hours, and then they were sent home without pay. And the white
supervisors stayed there drinking coffee, were paid for a full day's work.
And that's really what precipitated it, those two events.

GROSS: The slogan of the Memphis sanitation workers strike was "I Am a Man,"
and `Am' was underlined. What was the meaning the leadership wanted that
slogan to have?

Mr. HONEY: The "I Am a Man" slogan sort of emanated from the ranks of the
workers. A lot of these workers were very religious. There were a lot of
what we call jackleg preachers, people who just preached, and they might have
a storefront church or no church at all, but they preached in the union
meetings. And so they had a real conception of dignity and justice based on
the Bible and their understanding of Christianity. And they wanted to be
treated as human beings, with respect. And it was an all-male work force so
it was "I Am Man." But the whole black community took up this slogan.
Everybody instantly recognized what this slogan meant. It meant `We want an
end to the plantation mentality and the disrespect that white people show to
black people every day of their lives.'

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is historian Michael Honey. His
new book is called "Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin
Luther King's Last Campaign."

What did Martin Luther King see as his role in the Memphis sanitation workers
strike?

Mr. HONEY: You know, I think King did in Memphis what he so famously did in
so many places. You can really see why he was so important to the movement
when you see what he did in Memphis. You know, there was a lot of backlash
against King in the student...(unintelligible)...committee and some of the
younger people in that period because people would say, `Well, he'd come in.
He'd make a speech and then he'd leave. He'd get a lot of publicity, but
we're still here doing the organizing.' And some people resented that. But
what actually transpired in Memphis was that the local movement went on for
about six weeks, and they were really desperate to get some national media
coverage, and it was almost blacked out of the media. It was a very
significant battle that was going on in Memphis and King was called in when
they were really questioning whether they could survive, whether the strike
would win.

He came in. He brought the national media attention. Suddenly, the national
labor unions, AFL-CIO, George Meany started to pay attention. Money started
coming in to the strike to support it. And more than that, when King came in,
he assessed the situation immediately and gave a brilliant speech on March
18th that just shook the place. There were 15,000 people there at this
speech, and he called for a general strike in Memphis of all black workers.
The domestic workers, garbage workers, teachers, students, everybody walked
out and shut the city down. And people--if you hear the recording of that,
people just went nuts.

GROSS: Well, you actually brought a copy of the recording with you, so I'd
like you to play us an excerpt of it. Would you introduce the excerpt that
you'd like to play?

Mr. HONEY: Yeah. What's happening here is that King has flown in from Las
Angeles via Jackson, Mississippi. He's on the Poor People's Campaign. He's
in, himself, in serious trouble. He's exhausted. The FBI is pursuing him
every step of the way. They're wiretapping him. They've got informants in
his organization. The secretary-treasurer of SCLC, King's organization, is
working with the FBI. He's getting very little sleep.

He comes to Memphis and instead of what he's experiencing in many places,
which is a lot of backlash against him because of his anti-war stand--even in
the black community, a lot of people dissing him for opposing military action
in Vietnam. Instead of that, he comes to Memphis, and people are so overjoyed
to see him and so happy to have him come into their movement. And he responds
to that by explaining, in a way that almost nobody else could do, why their
strike was so important and why it was so important for the middle class to
support the working class and the poor in this situation.

GROSS: OK. So this is Martin Luther King recorded on March 18th, 1968.

(Soundbite of recorded speech)

Reverend MARTIN LUTHER KING Jr.: If we are going to get equality, if we are
going to get adequate wages, we are going to have to struggle for them.

(Soundbite of audience responding)

Rev. KING: You know what? You may have to escalate the struggle a bit. If
they keep refusing , and they will not recognize the union and will not decree
further check-off for the collection of dues, I'm telling you what you ought
to do, and you're together here enough to do it.

(Soundbite of audience responding)

Rev. KING: In a few days, you ought to get together and just have a general
work stoppage in the city of Memphis.

(Soundbite of audience cheering and responding)

Rev. KING: And you let that day come, not a Negro in this city will go to
any job downtown.

(Soundbite of audience responding)

Rev. KING: And non-Negro in domestic service will go to anybody's house,
anybody's kitchen.

(Soundbite of audience responding)

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's an excerpt of Martin Luther King speaking on March 18th of
1968.

And, Michael Honey, so Martin Luther King calls for a general strike here.
Gets a really enthusiastic reaction. What was the reaction within the labor
movement to the idea of a general strike in Memphis in support of the
sanitation workers?

Mr. HONEY: One of the interesting dynamics of this strike in Memphis is that
the AFL-CIO unions, which are white-dominated, white-run for the most part,
are supportive of the strike because public employees are organizing all
across the country, and the union that's involved here is the American
Federation of State, County, Municipal Employees, AFSCME. And AFSCME is the
fastest growing union in the country at this point. It's not the biggest
union, but it's the fasted growing one. And AFSCME really needs to win in
Memphis, because if they lose, the drive for public employee unionization in
the South will fall flat, and they're also afraid of their national campaigns.
So the AFL-CIO unions are supportive of the strike because they really have to
be.

But white workers themselves are very ambivalent. They are kind of worried
about what's happening in the black community, which is that it's unifying.
People are getting very militant. Young people are getting involved.
Teachers are getting involved. The ministers are involved. And they don't
know where this is going. So they hold a pretty good rally on March 5th of
AFL-CIO people, but other than that, they are kind of quiet.

GROSS: My guest is Michael Honey, author of the new book, "Going Down Jericho
Road."

More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest, Michael Honey, has written a book about the campaign Martin
Luther King was working on in Memphis when he was assassinated, rallying
support for 1300 black sanitation workers striking for the right to unionize.
When we left off, we were talking about how King had advocated a general
strike in Memphis.

So after Martin Luther King calls for this general strike, then you have to
figure out, you know, the leadership had to figure out, `Well, what shape
should the general strike take? And how do you keep it nonviolent?' What
shape did they want the general strike to take?

Mr. HONEY: Well, unfortunately, there was no follow-up to this. Taylor
Rogers, who was very active in the strike and later became the president of
AFSCME Local 1733, said, `Well, you know, we never really followed that up.'
It was a great idea, and they were ready to do it on a kind of spontaneous
basis, and King was then scheduled to come back in a few days and lead a mass
march. And, undoubtedly, if he had come back to do that, the students would
have walked out of the schools, a lot of people would have refused to go to
work. It would have been something like a general strike of black workers.
But, instead, what happened was they had this incredible snowfall that just
froze the mid-South. It was a freak snowfall, and so King couldn't come back.
And then they had to reschedule it, and he came back quite a bit later. And
things had changed and some of the energy had dissipated. And then a lot of
divisions started to sort of emerge within the movement.

GROSS: Well, although the general strike never happened, there was a big
demonstration that did happen on behalf of the sanitation workers. Tell us
about that demonstration and how it ended up in a confrontation with the
police.

Mr. HONEY: Yeah. Well, what happened was that King came in from New York
City, where he was working on the Poor People's Campaign, and he came in very
late. The march was supposed to start at 10:00 and King was nowhere to be
seen, and they didn't want to start without him. This is March 28th, you
know, by that time, it's pretty hot in Memphis. And people were waiting
around for him for an hour and a half or so. Meanwhile, students were walking
out of the schools and there was an incident at Hamilton High School where the
police came in and attacked the students, beat some people up. One young
woman was badly hurt and the rumor spread that she had been killed. So all
these students started coming downtown to gather for the march, and they were
extremely agitated and angry.

And, at the same time, a lot of the street people around Beale Street--which
is, you know, that famous street in Memphis of the blues and everything else,
people who were pickpockets, petty thieves, not movement people at all, began
to intersperse themselves into the march. And so when King finally did
arrive, the march itself was sort of out of control. The marshals couldn't
keep people together the way they wanted them to be. And when the march
finally did start, somebody started breaking windows. And, suddenly, they
were in a situation where King is leading a march and behind him windows are
being broken, and it looks like a riot is about to happen.

GROSS: That was the big fear that a lot of the organizers of the
demonstration had that somehow like younger people or other people latching
onto the demonstration would become violent, and it would change the tone
completely of the demonstration.

Mr. HONEY: Mm-hmm.

Well, actually, this was the thing everybody was afraid about having to do
with the Poor People's Campaign itself. King was talking about taking masses
of people to Washington, DC. And as you remember, you know, we had the long,
hot summers back then. Every summer huge riots would take place in the inner
cities, usually set off by a confrontation with the police. And that's
exactly what people were afraid would happen in Washington, DC, when these
people camped in around the Congress demanding an end to poverty. So what
happened in Memphis was that King was suddenly put in that very situation that
everybody was dreading. And King, at the front of the march, was suddenly
confronted with a whole mass of police with their gas masks, their clubs which
were four-feet long, their, you know, their weapons drawn. And he was right
in their line of sight. And James Lawson, the ministerial leader, took King
out of the march because he didn't want King to be in the position of leading
a riot, one. And, two, he didn't want King himself to get killed or badly
hurt by the police.

So when they pulled King out, then the police attacked. And it wasn't so much
a riot of the people as it was a riot of the police. And when the police
attacked, then it just spread, and it became a riot of everybody.

GROSS: With...

Mr. HONEY: A lot of stu...

GROSS: ...with looting and...

Mr. HONEY: Yes.

A lot of windows were broken on Beale Street and various areas around there.
But, you know, actually, as riots go, it wasn't much. There was not that much
damage. It wasn't an attack against people at all. It was an attack against
property. People were stealing liquor out of stores. But, you know, how big
of a crime is that? What was really bad about it was that the police just
laid siege to the black community for the next three days, and they brought in
the National Guard, and suddenly Memphis became a police state. And this was
the kind of thing everybody was hoping to avoid, seeing a repeat of Detroit of
1967 for instance.

GROSS: Michael Honey's new book about Martin Luther King in Memphis is called
"Going Down Jericho Road." Honey is a professor at the University of
Washington-Tacoma. He'll be back in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

On this Martin Luther King Day, we're talking about the campaign King was
working on in Memphis when he was assassinated there in 1968. He was
organizing in support of 1300 African-American sanitation workers who were
striking for the right to unionize.

My guest, Michael Honey, is a labor historian who has written a new book about
King and the Memphis strike called "Going Down Jericho Road." When we left
off, Honey was describing a demonstration on March 28, 1968, that ended in a
confrontation with police.

Let's hear an excerpt of the speech that Martin Luther King gave on April 3rd
of 1968. This was the day before he was killed. How long is the speech after
the confrontation that we were just talking about?

Mr. HONEY: The confrontation happens on March 28th and then the National
Guard is brought in, and there's martial law for about four or five days.
They have a meeting in Atlanta to try to decide what to do about Memphis, and
there's a lot of division within the ranks of King's own organization.
They're angry that he went to Memphis, said, `We'--you know, `you never should
have gone there, we didn't want you to do this in the first place.' King walks
out of the meeting, goes away for several hours, finding the staff realizes
that they have to unify behind him. And he says, you know, `I think we have
to go back to Memphis or else I'm done as a leader.'

And so they finally agree to that, and they all come back on April 2nd, and
then King comes in on April 3rd and he's served with an injunction, a federal
injunction saying he cannot march. And in the past King has always tried to
not go against federal courts because the federal courts have been often on
the side of the movement. So, on April 3rd, he's giving this speech in the
context of he's saying, `I'm going to defy the federal injunction, we're going
to march come hell or high water, and it's going to be a nonviolent march.'
So, he's putting everything on the line.

GROSS: And this speech is most famous for his--for the end of the speech in
which he talks about how he's been to the mountaintop. But the part we're
going to hear is specifically about the Memphis sanitation strike and the
importance of supporting these striking sanitation workers. So here's Martin
Luther King.

(Soundbite of speech given by Martin Luther King)

Rev. KING: The issue isn't justice, the issue is the refusal of Memphis to
be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants who happen to be
sanitation workers.

(Soundbite of crowd clapping)

Rev. KING: Now, we've got to keep attention on that. That's always the
problem with a little violence. You know what happened the other day and the
press dealt only with the window breaking. I read the articles. They very
seldom got around to mentioning the fact that 1,300 sanitation workers on
strike and that Memphis is not being fair to them and that Mayor Loeb is in
dire need of a doctor. They didn't get around to that.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

Rev. KING: Now, we are going to march again, and we've got to march again in
order to put the issue where it is supposed to be...

(Soundbite of crowd clapping)

Rev. KING: ...and force everybody to see the vow of 1300 of God's children
here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights,
wondering how this thing is going to come out. That's the issue, and we've
got to say to the nation, we know how it's coming out. But when people get
caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it,
that is no stopping for a shout of victory.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Martin Luther King in Memphis on the day before he was killed.
And my guest Michael Honey is the author of the new book, "Going Down Jericho
Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King's Last Campaign."

Later in that speech, King proposes a boycott of several companies who he says
haven't been fair in their hiring policies. And he says, `Because up till now
only the sanitation workers have been feeling the pain, we must redistribute
the pain.' And he wants to pressure these companies to support the sanitation
workers and to tell Mayor Loeb to support them.

Did the boycott ever happen?

Mr. HONEY: Oh, yes. The boycott was actually under way. James Lawson and
the other people in the movement in Memphis were very familiar with these
techniques which had been developed in Birmingham in 1963, even in Nashville
in the sit-ins in 1960. All along, the civil rights movement had adopted many
of the campaign tactics that the labor movement had used, sit-downs, sit-ins,
boycotts, economic coercion, strikes, arrests. So, when he's in Memphis on
April 3rd, he's drawing on a rich tradition that the movement in Memphis is
also drawing on, and they're very effectively boycotting the downtown. The
business people in Memphis are really hurting at this point in the strike.
And they're boycotting both of the city newspapers. There's a real campaign
to go against the media which has completely just misreported, I guess you
would say, the strike and one-sided view of what's going on to the point where
the media didn't even make it clear to the public that these workers, by law,
did have a right to unionize. They made it appear that all the laws said that
you couldn't even do this which was what the mayor said. So, when King is
making these calls, he's really just reinforcing what everybody is already
doing.

GROSS: The day after the speech that we've been talking about, Martin Luther
King is assassinated. Did you learn anything that you didn't already know
about his assassination when you were doing research for your book?

Mr. HONEY: I learned some nuances. There are FBI files on King that fill up
almost a whole room at the FBI research room in Washington, DC. I didn't go
through all those files because a number of scholars have gone through them in
great depth. And David Garrow wrote a book about the FBI and Martin Luther
King where he showed how the FBI was trying to destroy King by every means
imaginable. One of the things that they did was J. Edgar Hoover, the head of
the FBI, instructed his agents not to pass on information to King when there
was a threat against his life. So, they knew there were threats on King when
he was coming into Memphis, but they're not passing them on to King.

So, in addition to that, I found that there were about 40 police cars in that
area of Memphis circling around. The police were everywhere. Once King was
shot, the police came out of the woodwork. Jesse Jackson was there and the
New York Times interviewed him and said, `What happened?' He said, `Well,
there was a shot and all these police came charging to us. But clearly the
shot came from somewhere else. We could hear the rifle shot over in the
distance, but none of them were going toward where the shot was heard. They
were going toward the balcony.' So, a lot of people were drawing this
conclusion that the police already knew what the target was. Now, beyond that
we know that there was a reward out on King's life and that James Earl Ray
somehow escaped despite the fact that there were police everywhere and was on
his way to Rhodesia from England, I believe it was, when he was arrested.

Now, a lot of people in the black community at the time did not believe the
idea that it was this one person that came in and did it. I don't know what
the answer to that is, but certainly King was not getting the protection that
he should have gotten under the circumstances that existed at that time.

GROSS: My guest is Michael Honey, author of the new book, "Going Down Jericho
Road."

More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is Michael Honey. His new book, "Going Down Jericho Road,"
is about the campaign Martin Luther King was working on when he was killed in
Memphis, supporting African-American sanitation workers who were striking for
the right to unionize.

You write that even in death, Martin Luther King was a polarizing figure in
Memphis, how so?

Mr. HONEY: Well, you know, you would have think that after a traumatic event
like this that the society would come together and re-evaluate. Instead, what
you found was a hardening of positions in the white community. A lot of
people arming themselves. I have a lot of anecdotes that I found, people
making jokes about King's death, middle-class people, housewives, businessmen,
teachers, you name it, and talking about `If any of those black people come
into our neighborhood, we're going to shoot them.' And after that the Memphis
police really hardening its position against the black community of kind of a
rein of brutality, sort of striking back at blacks and particularly young
black males for having had a movement and trying to sort of discourage them
from ever doing it again.

GROSS: What was the outcome of the sanitation workers' strike?

Mr. HONEY: Eventually they won, but it was not, again, as you might expect
that the mayor and everybody would say, `OK, now we have to--we have to settle
this, you know, these things have gone too far.' No. Mayor Loeb never agreed
to a union. President Johnson was the one who intervened. He sent a labor
expert into Memphis to settle it. He spent weeks going back and forth between
Loeb and the union. Finally, it was the city council that signed an agreement
that said that the union--that the workers would have a union, that they would
have a signed agreement, not a contract, which is what they wanted, but an
agreement and that union dues would be checked off from their paychecks so
that they'd have a regular source of income. Those were the main things they
were trying to get, and they finally got them.

GROSS: You write a little bit in your new book about your own participation
in the civil rights movement. And you write that, like many other new
leftists, by 1968, you thought Martin Luther King wasn't radical enough. Why
did you think that and how did you change your mind?

Mr. HONEY: Yeah, isn't that funny? When I look back at that, I think it's
quite funny. You know, during the black power period, Stokely Carmichael, a
lot of other people, H. Rap Brown, the Black Panther Party, I had a lot of
respect for all these people who were saying that nonviolence itself is sort
of outmoded. Of course, Malcolm X had been saying that. There was the
Vietnam War, which really, we were desperate about the Vietnam War, a lot of
people. How do we stop this daily carnage that's going on day after day?
Nobody seems to be willing to stop it and the government. And here comes
King, you know, he's still offering the same thing, `nonviolence, turn the
other cheek, integration, these things will solve our problems.' And at the
time a lot of people thought, `Well, that time is passed,' you know. But in
hindsight, looking back many years later, King was the one who was talking
about building coalitions. King was the one that was talking about poverty
and world poverty and building a massive coalition to end that and reverse the
priorities from war to spending on human needs. King still had his eye on the
prize in terms of building a movement that could really change America. And I
think a lot of the rest of us sort of lost that for a while and partly because
of the bitterness of the period. But King somehow surmounted all of that. He
had every right to be the bitterest person of all, but he was not.

GROSS: Is there a story you'd like to tell us about one of the workers who
participated in the sanitation workers' strike and whose life was changed by
it?

Mr. HONEY: Yeah. There was a man named Ed Gillis who was 72 years old at
the time of the strike in 1968. And his white supervisor still called him
"Boy" even though he was 72. And his story goes back to almost the Civil War
when he was born in the aftermath of the Civil War. And you can see through
his life how he was treated by whites as servant, doing the worst jobs, the
most painful work on the railroads. He severed his main artery at one time
working on the railroads. And here he is at 72 years of age shoveling asphalt
in the streets of Memphis. And he was among the group that started the strike
because of this "rainy day policy" when they were sent home and the whites
collected pay for the day. And, you know, he was somebody who had been
accepting the white system for years and years because he had no choice, but
he had his limits. And when he had a chance to fight back, he took it. And
that was the story of all of these workers. When they had an opportunity to
change things, they did. People thought that they were folks who just went
along and poor people who bowed their heads and so forth. But that's where
the "I Am a Man" comes in. They had their limits, and they took their lives
in their own hands.

GROSS: Michael Honey, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. HONEY: Thank you.

GROSS: Michael Honey is a professor at the University of Washington-Tacoma.
The title of his new book, "Going Down Jericho Road," is a reference to Martin
Luther King's final speech in which King referred to the New Testament "Good
Samaritan" story.

In the story Jesus talks about a man who was accosted by thieves on Jericho
Road, a dangerous road for travelers. A Levite and a priest passing by on the
other side didn't stop to help the man. The person who did was a Samaritan, a
traveler from an ethnic group that was looked down on. Here's Martin Luther
King in Memphis on the day before he was killed.

(Soundbite of speech by Martin Luther King)

Rev. KING: You know it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over
that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. It's
possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking and he
was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there,
lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that
the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, `If I stop to
help this man, what will happen to me?' But then the good Samaritan came by,
and he reversed the question. `If I do not stop to help this man, what will
happen to him?' That's the question before you tonight. Not `If I stop to
help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job?' Not `If I stop to
help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I
usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?' The question
is not `If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?' The
question is `If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen
to them?' That's the question.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: An excerpt of Martin Luther King's final speech.

Coming up, rock historian Ed Ward on a musical development the same year that
King won the Nobel Peace Prize.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: Rock historian Ed Ward discusses musical development at
Motown Records the same year that Martin Luther King Jr. won Nobel
Peace Prize
TERRY GROSS, host:

1964 was the year that Martin Luther King won the Nobel Peace Prize, and the
Civil Rights Act was passed. Our rock historian Ed Ward looks at what
happened that same year at Motown Records. It was the label's fifth year, and
the year it showed that it was, as its slogan would soon brag, the sound of
young America today.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Singer #1: (Singing) "1964 and we gonna dance some more. You've
got to keep up with the times if you gonna be mine. So if you can do it, let
me know it."

Backup Singers #1: (Singing in unison) "Do it! Do it! Do it! Do it! Do
it! Do it!"

Singer #1: (Singing) "I went to a hop the other night."

Backup Singers #1: (Singing in unison) "Other night, other night."

Singer #1: (Singing) "The dance they were doing, hey, was out of sight."

Backup Singers #1: (Singing in unison) "Out of sight. Out of sight."

Singer #1: (Singing) "The way it looked, that was not the way we do it."

Backup Singers #1: (Singing in unison) Do it! Do it! Do it!

Singer #1: (Singing) "I knew right away even I could do it."

Backup Singers #1: (Singing in unison) "I can do it, I can do it, I can do
it. Do it! Do it! Do it!"

(End of soundbite)

Mr. ED WARD: 1964 was Motown's miracle year, not for The Miracles who didn't
really have a hit, but for The Four Tops who had "Baby, I Need Your Loving,"
Marvin Gaye who had "Baby, Don't You Do it" and "You're a Wonderful One,"
Brenda Holloway with "Every Little Bit Hurts," Martha and the Vandellas who
had "Dancing in the Streets" and The Marvelettes with "Too Many Fish in the
Sea," The Temptations with "Girl, Why You Want To Make Me Blue," "The Girl's
Alright With Me," "The Way You Do The Things You Do" and "My Girl," Mary Wells
with "My Guy" and especially the Supremes who finally broke through with "Baby
Love" and "Where Did Our Love Go?" Not bad.

But those classics only tell part of the story. Berry Gordy's company was now
comprised of six labels: Motown, Gordy, VIP, Soul, Tamla and a country label
Melody. The later sounds like a bad idea. And in fact, it was. Although it
had Dorsey Burnette, the pioneering rock-a-billy singer, who might have had
some success except for the fact that his brother Johnny drowned that summer
plunging Dorsey into a serious depression.

Soul was the new label. Dedicated to grittier stuff than Motown released.
And it's very first record was a classic, although not in its original form.

(Soundbite of song)

Backup Singers #2: (Singing in unison) "Every which move that move that move
that every which move that moves on."

Unidentified Singer #2: "Fe fe fi fi fo fo fum. Look at down the street
'cause here she comes. When are we going to chase the magic? High-heeled
shoes and an alligator hat. Where in the world can a diamond ring that's
gracious on her arm than I'd ever seen."

Singer #2 and Backup Singers #2: (Singing in unison) "She's a devil with a
blue dress, blue dress on. She's a devil with a blue dress on."

Singer #2: (Singing) "Here she comes now."

Backup Singers #2: (Singing in unison) "She's a devil with a blue dress."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: Shorty Long's song would make him a lot of money, but not until
his fellow Detroiter Mitch Ryder revised it with his band the Detroit Wheels a
couple of years later. Long, like the other early acts on Soul, came to the
Motown family, thanks to Harvey Fuqua and Gwen Gordy, Berry's sister, who sold
their Tri-Phi label to Motown in 1964. Two other acts came with them, both of
whom would be important to the Motown story later on.

(Soundbite of "Monkey Jump")

Unidentified Singer #3: (Singing) "Oh, look at that monkey jump."

(Soundbite of saxophone playing)

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: Saxophonist Audrey DeWalt known professionally as Junior Walker
would also take a while to find his groove at Motown. Although these first
notes on "Monkey Jump" here are unmistakably him.

The third act went straight to Motown for polishing. Although, again, it
would take them a couple of years to find their groove.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Singer #4: (Singing) "You don't always say the words I want to
hear."

Backup Singers #3: (Singing in unison) "Want to hear."

Singer #4: (Singing) "But you need to really say it softly."

Backup Singers #3: (Singing in unison) "Softly."

Singer #4: (Singing) "No, you're not the kind of girl a man just can't
resist. There's a certain something in your kiss..."

Backup Singers #3: (Singing in unison) "...that makes me want to sing."

Singer #4: (Singing) "Girl, you're sweet. I said sweet thing. You can't
sing..."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: The Spinners wound up working odd jobs around Motown and doing an
act called "The Brown Beatles" in which they played Beatles songs just to make
ends meet. 1964 was also the year that Motown lost one of its major stars,
Mary Wells, to another label which was problematic not only for Motown itself,
but for Marvin Gaye who had a series of successful duets with her. Motown
wanted to keep that magic going, so they hooked him up with a newly signed
former Ikette from their VIP label, Oma Heard.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. OMA HEARD: (Singing) "Here comes that guy with the senior girls. It
makes him happy just to take them for a whirl. Still I love him and I want
him so, but now Mr. Lonely Heart, I can't let him know.

Backup Singers #4: (Singing in unison) "No, Mr. Lonely Heart, I can't let
him know."

Ms. HEARD: (Singing) "I remember..."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: Something didn't work out. The sessions were never released and
Oma Heard's one single barely snuck out. Marvin hooked up with Kim Weston
instead. For my money, the talent deserving greater recognition from Motown
in 1964 was the Velvelettes. Four young women who recorded a number of
wonderful songs. Why the label decided to release this as the period between
Christmas and New Year's is anybody's guess. But it sank as predictably as
you'd expect.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Singer #5: (Singing) "I was walking down the street..."

Backup Singers #5: (Singing in unison) (Unintelligible)

Singer #5: (Singing) "...boys kept following me."

Backup Singers #5: (Singing in unison) "Just to hurry."

Singer #5: (Singing) "You have nothing to say..."

Backup Singers #5: (Singing in unison) "So why do I do..."

Singer #5: (Singing) "...in every way."

Backup Singers #5: (Singing in unison) (Unintelligible). I'm really saying
something, I'm really saying something. Scooby do wa bop bop scooby do wa..."

Singer #5: (Singing) "Yeah..."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: At the end of 1964, Motown had a lot to be proud of, including
dozens of flops which would have been hits at any other time. They put the
company on the map, toured their artists overseas, and not incidentally,
they'd stood up to the year's other major music phenomenon, the British
invasion and fought it to a truce. They'd happened upon the brilliant ideas
which became the formula which would make them all rich, but because it was a
formula, Motown would never be this much fun again.

GROSS: Ed Ward lives in Berlin. He played selections from the complete
Motown Singles, Volume 4, on Motown Select. It features recordings from 1964.
We'll close with the 1972 Motown classic by Marvin Gaye.

I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. MARVIN GAYE: (Singing) "Mother, mother, there's too many of you crying.
Brother, brother, brother, there's far too many of you dying. You know we've
got to find a way to bring some loving here today. Father, father, we don't
need to escalate. You see, war is not the answer. For only love can conquer
hate. You know we've got to find a way to bring some loving here today.
Picket lines and picket signs. Don't punish me with brutality. Talk to me,
so you can see, oh, what's going on. What's going on. What's going on.
Yeah, what's going on. Yeah, what's going on."

(End of soundbite)

(Credits)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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