A number of popular R&B singers, athletes and entertainers joined Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for a rally in Birmingham, Alabama, to raise funds for the March on Washington D.C.
Stars like Ray Charles, Clyde McPhatter, The Shirelles, Marian Anderson, Joe Louis, James Baldwin and Johnny Mathis were among the celebs who attended the rally in Birmingham today (August 5, 1963).
“These are not the days for a anonymous and quiet approval,” Johnny Mathis said. “The time has come to take a stand.”
The concert was originally supposed to take place at the Birmingham Center, but those plans were nixed by infamous racist/ Birmingham police chief Bull Connor.
William B. Williams of WNEW hosted the benefit show, which featured Dr. Billy Taylor as musical director.
“We were under the illusion that we were going to perform in the town facility and we got there and a man named Bull Connor was the police chief,” Dr. Taylor said. “He said adamantly we couldn’t have any of that.”
The benefit concert ended up taking place at the football stadium of Miles College, an all-black institution.
Over 10,000 people crowded into Miles College’s football field to see the benefit concert.
Since Dr. Taylor was also a personality for WNEW, he was outside of the stadium outside of the arena the football field doing man on the street interviews.
“It was a mixed audience, and that was mostly black people I was looking at,” Dr. Taylor said. “There was one guy, who looked “Bubba,” I mean you’re looking someone you don’t want to meet on a dark night if you are a black guy. Here is this guy walking right dead at me, so I stopped him. I said ‘excuse me kind sir and asked him why he was here’? He said ‘I came to hear Ray Charles.”
As Johnny Mathis was performing, the stage collapsed and all of the lights went out.
Most participants stayed calm during the blackout, as the crowd sang the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ended up drawing over 250,000 people to his historic “March on Washington,” which took place on August 28, 1963.
On that day, Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.