Back in 1969 when I was 12 my family traveled to Florida (where I now live), and we went to the outskirts of what was then Cape Canaveral to see the Apollo 11 launch. We had a travel trailer, and the night before the launch we joined the thousands–and I mean thousands–of other people camping out on the shores of the Banana River (I think it’s the Banana) awaiting the launch. All night long I kept looking through my binoculars at the rocket sitting there on the launch pad, imagining that it was headed to the moon. There was excitement all around all night, and it was the first night in my life that I stayed up all night.
But my story is a side story to the launch. Right next to where we were parked was a blocked-off area maybe about the size of a football field. It soon became clear why authorities were keeping that area free. Martin Luther King had been assassinated a year earlier, and Ralph Abernathy had taken over his role, at least to my understanding. Limousines and Cadillacs started rolling up to the area, letting out people who then gathered in the space. Some of them started building a campfire, while others milled around talking. A horse trailer rolled up, and I got as close to it as I could (this area was roped off and they were keeping “regular people” out) and saw some mules in the back. Then an ABC news truck drove in, and people with cameras and microphones got out and started running around. One man had a megaphone, and I heard him tell the people in the clearing to sit around the campfire and sing “We Shall Overcome.” After about 20 minutes of arranging this scene, they did, and ABC filmed it. Then the ABC guy with the megaphone told the people to pretend they were sleeping around the campfire. Someone produced a parachute, and they people posed sleeping under it while they were filmed. Filming stopped, the parachute was rolled up, and the people started milling around again.
So a little while later a man who was camping near us told us to gather around his portable TV. The news was on all night, I think, or maybe it was the regular news broadcast–I don’t know. But they showed the staged singing and sleeping as if it was what the people were really doing. Apparently they had gathered to protest the government spending money on the space program instead of using it to fund programs for disadvantaged people. The next day the people gathered and, led by Abernathy, paraded through the area in what they called a “Poor People’s March.”
Information about this can be found about halfway down on this page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralph_Abernathy
So anyway, I was fascinated by all of this. I know what I saw was relatively harmless and wasn’t the point of the event at all, but ever since then I’ve looked askance at news stories and wondered how much was staged and how much actually happened.