Martin Luther King's "I have a Dream" speech: What's up with the white hats?

In honor of the 50 year aniversary of the greatest speech in American history:
Who are the people standing behind Martin L. King, and why are they all wearing white caps ?

You can see the people and their caps in the first 30 seconds of this youtube clip of the speech (from about 0:05 to 0:35).

(the link shows only the final minutes of the ML King speaking… But on the sidebar there are other links to the entire speech… click on one of them! Fifty years later, it’s as moving as it was to those who saw it live.)

Earlier thread. I think, as I said in the earlier thread, that they are Gandhi caps.

okay, so they are Ghandi caps. But that leads to my next question: what’s up with Ghandi caps in America?
Obviously, Martin Luther King proudly associated himself with Ghandi’s movement and its messsage of non-violence. But had the Ghandi cap become a popular symbol in America of 1963? Or was it pretty much limited to this one demonstration, and then faded away?

When I think of the famous historical symbols of the civil rights movement, I don’t think of Ghandi caps. If I had been an average American watching the news that night in 1963 --would I have recognized the caps as a political statement? or as having any meaning at all?

Let’s get this straight. The man’s name is spelled Gandhi.


But what’s up with his caps?

Bayard Rustin went to India in 1948. Dr King went in 1959. The American civil rights movement was strongly influenced by Gandhi’s philosophy and teachings. I don’t know if the average American of 1963 would recognize a Gandhi cap, but I think the leadership would.


You guys are overthinking this. They were wearing white hats because they’re the good guys.

Good guy? Did King ever produce a birth certificate?

Those caps were associated with the Nation of Islam, which is ironic, as most of the (by then splintered) sub-group, including Malcolm X, had denounced it as too weak a show.
NoI often provided security, but these folks do not act like security.

Yes, Nation of Islam is aka Black Muslims, and is now “owned” by Farrakhan. Early on, it was noted for not opposing (to put it mildly) the use of violence and for teaching a black racism allegedly found somewhere in the Quran (remember the Arab world had a collective memory of the Crusades - hostility toward western Europeans would not be surprising).

They and the Mormons (who once taught that a dark skin was the mark of Cain) should have been given a really small island in the middle of nowhere and left to decide who’s theology was superior.

But at least it lets them make a mean pizza.

I believe that you are incorrect. Here is a photo of Elijah Muhammad standing at a podium wearing a cap that looks more like a taqiyah than a Gandhi cap. Secondly, I do not believe that the leadership of the civil rights movement (who mostly originated among Christian clergy) got along with the Nation
of Islam.

Also, the other, now-closed thread was revived by a new poster who linked to a USA Today that profiled some of the people who were there that day. One such profile says:

Since the Crusades started some 450 years after the first Quran was collated ( by tradition anyway, the earliest extant copies date to a century or so later ), one doubts Arab disgruntlement over crusading farangi was the source of much of anything ;). Black nationalist readings of the Quran are pretty parallel to white supremacist readings of the Bible - pretty strangled. There is a reason Warith Deen Muhammed chucked most of that stuff and started moving the bulk of the old NOI into mainstream Sunni Islam starting in the 1970’s. Farrakhan’s group is basically a rump faction.

Please stop spreading ignorance.

  1. Those caps are associated with Gandhi, Nehru, and the Indian Congress Party. They have nothing to do with Islam. Indeed, there are a lot of Muslims who would not want to be associated with those caps.

  2. Why would King be surrounded by followers of Elijah Mohammed? They weren’t exactly buddies.

English grammar requires caps for proper nouns.

Many in the crowd wore paper hats, like a diner cook’s, saying UAW—Full Employment Now.

Kufi cap. In the United States today, many African-Americans wear the kufi during weddings, funerals, graduations and Kwanzaa celebrations. Furthermore, people of mainly West African heritage of all faiths wear the kufi, although it is associated with members of the Islamic faith more.

So really…who knows. See for yourself…

That stuff wasn’t yet big in the '50s and '60s when King was advocating non-violent resistance. It’s Gandhi, I’m telling you. There’s no question.

Washingtom, DC in August, standing out in the hot sun for hours, you really ought to wear some kinf of hat, to keep off the sun. And a white one works better than black.

Obviously this (thanks for the link!), but it was also before Labor Day and a gentleman doesn’t wear a dark hat before sundown before Labor Day. It isn’t done.