Skip to content

Bill Russell was part of March on Washington, was near Dr. King 50 years ago

Aug 30, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT

President Obama Honors Medal Of Freedom Recipients Getty Images

There was a lot of talk back on Wednesday, the 50th anniversary of one of the monumental moments of American history — the March on Washington culminated in the iconic “I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr. That march and that speech helped lay out a vision that changed the course of the nation as one of the high water marks of the civil rights movement.

The speech was some of the most memorable and moving oratory ever given in the United States — and Bill Russell was feet away from Dr. King when he gave that speech.

It’s an amazing bit of history we were reminded of by TheBasketballJones.

“When I heard the speech, I had no idea that the words of that speech would last as long as they did,” Russell told USA Today in 2011 as he received his Presidential Medal of Freedom. “It never occurred to me it would be quoted 50 years later.”

Russell was the in the middle of his legendary career — he had five championships and three MVPs at that point — and his presence helped some understand the need for equality that extended from buses to restaurant counters all the way to the basketball court.

Russell had played a role in the civil rights movement as well (something talked about also in a Seattle Times story).

Russell found himself in a fit of rage — Medgar Evers was murdered in his own driveway while getting out of his car on the evening of June 12, 1963. Russell quickly sprung into action.

“Get down here,” Charles Evers, Medgar’s older brother, said to Boston’s superstar. “And we’ll open one of the playgrounds and we’ll have the first integrated basketball camp in Mississippi.” Russell did. With the Ku Klux Klan (including Evers’ killer, Byron De La Beckwith) following his every step, and with Charles barely sleeping while holding a rifle at Russell’s motel door for protection, Russell followed through on his promise.

Two months later, with the image of Evers’ assassination and the ghosts of Mississippi still fresh on his mind, Russell attended the “March On Washington” and even declined an invitation by King himself to stand beside him after meeting him the night before. Not because of any ill will, but because he understood the pain and tears it took to produce an event of this magnitude. ”He invited me to be up here, and I respectfully declined because the organizers had worked for years to get this together, and I hadn’t done anything,” said Russell at the March’s 50th anniversary.

But he did do something, by being there and lending his sizable presence to the cause.

Latest Posts
  1. Report: Wizards close to signing John Lucas III

    Oct 21, 2014, 9:16 AM EDT

    Washington Wizards v Toronto Raptors Washington Wizards v Toronto Raptors

    Celtics waived Lucas during offseason that saw him traded twice

  2. Rajon Rondo could return from injury by regular-season opener

    Oct 21, 2014, 8:36 AM EDT

    Boston Celtics v New York Knicks Boston Celtics v New York Knicks

    Celtics point guard, coach Brad Stevens leave open possibility of Rondo not missing any games after breaking hand

  3. 67RIEFNS No. 24: Chris Paul, NBA’s most underrated point guard

    Oct 21, 2014, 12:05 AM EDT

    Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Clippers Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Clippers

    Clippers point guard on his own level in post-Magic Johnson NBA

  4. Rajon Rondo says the Celtics will “surprise a lot of people”

    Oct 20, 2014, 10:15 PM EDT

    Rajon Rondo Rajon Rondo

    Rondo praises head coach Brad Stevens’ success on the college level.

  5. Donald Sterling drops suit against NBA, Shelly Sterling

    Oct 20, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT

    Donald Sterling Donald Sterling

    He still has an antitrust suit pending against the NBA.

  6. Derrick Rose blows past Dion Waiters for the finish, and one (VIDEO)

    Oct 20, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT

    Derrick Rose Derrick Rose

    It’s only preseason, but the 2011 league MVP looks like his old self.

  7. Report: Board of Governors expected to pass draft lottery reform, Sixers and Thunder opposed

    Oct 20, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT

    2013 NBA Draft Lottery 2013 NBA Draft Lottery

    The proposed changes would give the four worst teams the same odds of winning the No. 1 pick in the draft.

  8. Pacers’ Paul George on court taking shots after practice (VIDEO)

    Oct 20, 2014, 6:59 PM EDT

    Indiana Pacers Media Day 2014 Indiana Pacers Media Day 2014

    He’s moving well considered what happened to his leg just back in July.

  9. Hawks CEO induces certain gesture from T.I., redeems himself with a “for shizzle” (video)

    Oct 20, 2014, 4:52 PM EDT

    Chicago Bulls v Atlanta Hawks Getty Images

    Steve Koonin promoting Hawks’ season opener, which includes T.I. performances

  10. Lance Stephenson already flopping like it’s a playoff game (VINE)

    Oct 20, 2014, 3:33 PM EDT

    Charlotte Hornets v Chicago Bulls Getty Images

    When Stephenson brought his game to Charlotte this season, he clearly brought the flopping with him.

  11. Pistons waive Hasheem Thabeet

    Oct 20, 2014, 1:33 PM EDT

    Detroit Pistons Media Day Detroit Pistons Media Day

    Detroit also cuts Brian Cook, Josh Bostic and Lorenzo Brown

  12. Lakers waive Jeremy Tyler, who’s China-bound

    Oct 20, 2014, 12:22 PM EDT

    Los Angeles Lakers Media Day Los Angeles Lakers Media Day

    Door even more open for Ronnie Price and Wayne Ellington to make roster

Featured video

What are impacts of NBA's new TV deal?
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. B. Beal (3825)
  2. D. Rose (3622)
  3. J. Lin (3533)
  4. N. Noel (3396)
  5. V. Oladipo (3392)