Hats at Dr. King speech

What is the significance of the white caps the guys in the background are wearing?

Aren’t they Muslims? That would be my assumption.

Wikipedia has an article on a similar hat called the Gandhi cap that was associated with the Indian independence movement. Perhaps it’s related to that?

Here’s a possibly relevant quote from Let the Trumpet Sound: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr., by Stephen B. Oates about a 1959 trip to India taken by Dr. King:

“In the days that followed [arriving in New Delhi], King toured New Delhi in a Gandhi cap, giving talks and asking questions about what the Mahatma had accomplished.”

They are Gandhi caps.

Gandhi caps have nothing to do with Islam. They were worn by members of the (Indian) Congress Party.

Wearing a Gandhi cap in homage to Mahatma Gandhi while on a goodwill tour of India is like wearing a Madiba shirt as homage to Nelson Mandela while on a goodwill tour of South Africa, but I wouldn’t expect to see you come home and give a speech on American civil right with a group of your contemporaries sitting behind you also all wearing Madiba shirts.

If those guys are all wearing Ghandi caps as homage to Gandhi, then why isn’t MLK Jr. wearing one, too?

I still say they’re those Muslim pillbox hats. They look boxier and stiffer than the Gandhi caps, too. Not quite the same thing. This real-life Gandhi cap, with Gandhi in it, definitely has a poofy sort of peak to it, not a flat top, and the band is slanting, not straight.

There was an ice cream parlor accross the street.
No, I think DDG has it right. I have a vague memory of something of the sort.

A Black lady at work whom I trust not to tell me what I want to hear saw the pic and said they were Muslims.
What piqued my interest is that the same two guys are standing behind Dr. King during his speech and Rabbi Whats-his-name during his. I saw him on PBS last night. They are looking around at the crowd, more like Secret Service agents than anything else. Perhaps they were nervous.

I don’t know how authoritative it is, but this article suggests that the hat wearers are marshals:

“The leaders all wore suits, but many among the Deep South field secretaries came in the blue denim garb of sharecroppers, the uniform of the Southern movement. Union people wore white hats to signal their status as Marshals. If you have seen footage of the March, or the many pictures, you could see those proud black men and women surrounding King on the platform.”

The Muslim pillbox hats linked to above appears to be round, while the ones in the photo of the speech appear to be pointed in front, as are the Gandhi caps.

I’ve been trying without success to find news articles from the time that describe the event, in the hope that they might answer the question. Perhaps samclem will be able to find something.

Maybe he just didn’t want to wear a hat.

They’re not exactly wearing them to pay homage to Gandhi. They’re wearing them to associate themselves with Gandhi’s nonviolent means of achieving their goals.

I have a couple myself (in India they’re called “Congress Party caps”). They can vary in exact shape and can vary in the way they are worn.

The men in white caps were mostly visiting police and firemen, recruited to work security. For example, the gentleman to the left of Dr. King is Charlie Jackson, Detective for Jersey City, NJ, as reported by USA today (http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/martin-luther-king-dream-speech/index.html).

The New York Times also identified another man who was there, Robert Boyd, a New York City fireman (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/08/23/us/march-on-washington-anniversary-memories.html).

Regardless of what their professions were or why they were there, many of King’s followers wore Indian Congress Party caps, because of its association with non-violent civil rights actions (“It is known,” as Irri would say.). And those are the caps you are seeing in the photos. They are not Muslim prayer caps. They are not signs of office.

To the extent that they look rounded instead of pointed in the back and front, it’s because they’re wearing caps a size too small and they have stretched out.

Since there is a current thread on this and this one is old, I’m going to close this and direct you to the other.