Commentary

Saunders: Two whose dream was deferred

bsaunders@newsobserver.comAugust 21, 2013 

Ever since that Washington Post reporter discovered a gentleman in 2008 who’d been a butler through eight U.S. presidential administrations and got a book and movie deal out of it, journalists have been seeking other little-known but historically significant people to interview.

“Hey, maybe I can get Oprah to star in my movie, too,” the dream goes.

I’ve found two such people, men of whom you’ve never heard but who claim they were cheated out of their rightful places in history even though they played a significant role.

“Well, I would have played a significant role if King hadn’t hogged the microphone that day.”

The speaker is Agamemnon Theopholus Ellerbe III and he claimed to be the next scheduled speaker after Dr. King delivered his transcendent “I Have A Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963.

“Man, I had a dream, too, but nobody heard about it because everybody was yelling and screaming and crying” after King finished, Ellerbe said.

Got any proof, I asked?

No, Ellerbe said. “People were carrying on so, whooping and hollering, after that speech. Nobody was listening to me. Have you ever tried to shout over 250,000 people all talking at one time?”

Uh, no.

“Trust me, it isn’t easy,” he said. “I got up there and pulled my speech from my breast pocket and said ‘OK, you assembled masses. Settle down. You ain’t heard nothin’ yet. I’ve got a dream, too, baby, but I’m not going to share it with you until everyone is quiet.’ But they ignored me, homes. ‘Now that’s just plain rude,’ I said and stomped my foot for order. Nothing.

“That’s when I discovered the park police officers had unplugged the microphone and were clearing out the area. One of them shouted ‘Get off that stage, pal. We got a Peggy Lee concert at 8 and we need the mic.’ ”

Skeptical? You bet. Can anyone confirm this incredible story? I asked.

That’s when Ellerbe introduced me to another person who claimed to have been at the march but whose place in history has been similarly overshadowed.

Leonidas Aloysius Throckmorton, a retired history professor at Z.Z. Hill University, said his job at the event was to ensure that all of the speakers stuck to the time schedule. Throckmorton still sounded peeved 50 years later that one speaker went over his allotted time.

“Mr. Throckmorton,” I asked, “Which - ”

“Call me Ishmael,” he said.

Huh? “OK, Ishmael. Which speaker went over his time limit?”

“You know who it was. If you look real close at some of the archival film footage when Dr. King is speaking, you can see me off to the side, right next to Lincoln’s foot. I’m the one waving my arms, pointing to my watch and looking exasperated. The dude just would not look over.

“Wouldn’t have done a lick of good anyhow, though. You know how Martin was when he got rolling. He didn’t even stick to the script he’d prepared.”

That much alone can be confirmed. It’s known that the most famous part of King’s speech, the “I have a dream” part that lifted it into history, was ad-libbed.

Didn’t you think that powerful part was worth going a little off schedule? I asked Throckmorton.

He did not. “What if everybody had gone over their scheduled time? Why, we’d still be out there.”

Speaking of which, thousands are scheduled to be out there Saturday, marching for the same things – jobs and voting rights – we marched for 50 years ago.

Dream, indeed.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service