Video: When Heston, Poitier, Brando, Baldwin, and Belafonte Sat Down to Talk Civil Rights

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
May 28 2013 1:10 PM

Video: When Heston, Poitier, Brando, Baldwin, and Belafonte Sat Down to Talk Civil Rights

The Vault is Slate's new history blog. Like us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter @slatevault; find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

This roundtable, in which a group of Hollywood actors talk about the meaning of civil rights, was filmed in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963: the day of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The participants, all of whom attended the march: from left to right, Harry Belafonte, Charlton Heston, Sidney Poitier, moderator David Schoenburn, director and writer Joseph Manckiewicz, Marlon Brando, and James Baldwin.

The U.S. Information Agency, formed in 1953 to improve the American image in the eyes of the world, arranged and filmed this chat. During the Cold War, racial inequalities in the U.S. were a serious PR problem overseas. In his blog post on this film clip, the National Archives’ Richard Green writes that the USIA, having no choice but to face up to the civil rights movement’s increasing visibility, decided to showcase events like the March on Washington as evidence of the vitality of the American democratic process.

Advertisement

The clip amuses with its quaint production values: The men’s foreheads and noses are shiny for lack of makeup. Everybody smokes. Heston—who, later in life, was to align himself strongly with conservative causes—recites lines from Tom Paine. Brando rambles about the universal anger in the human heart.

Schoenburn, as the voice of USIA, tries to make the point that the very fact of the demonstration is unusual on the world stage—“I have seen no March on Moscow or March on Peking.” Belafonte, who was a lifelong supporter and confidant of MLK, speaks up, arguing that this self-congratulation is not enough: “It is long since past the time when we can measure our own sense of conscience and our own morality based on what some decayed society refuses to give their own.”

The group becomes the most animated at the end of the film, when talking about whether the issue should be called “The Negro Problem” or “The White Problem”: a distinction far from semantic.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?