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. PBT Extra: Cavaliers’ improved defense helps them to Finals

    May 27, 2015, 8:12 PM EDT

    Cleveland Cavaliers V Atlanta Hawks - Game Four Cleveland Cavaliers V Atlanta Hawks - Game Four

    The Cavaliers are allowing 98.5 points per 100 possession in the playoffs, the best of the four teams to reach the conference Finals

  2. Report: Pelicans interview Jeff Van Gundy

    May 27, 2015, 7:20 PM EDT

    Seattle Seahawks v Houston Texans Getty Images

    Will he become Anthony Davis’ next head coach?

  3. Reports: Bulls getting closer to firing Tom Thibodeau

    May 27, 2015, 5:35 PM EDT

    Cleveland at Chicago, Game 6 Cleveland at Chicago, Game 6

    If they want him gone, they just have to pull the trigger on the firing. Otherwise, bring him back.

  4. PBT Extra: Despite ending, Hawks had season worth celebrating

    May 27, 2015, 4:47 PM EDT

    Atlanta Hawks Media Day Getty Images

    The Hawks had an exciting season, they filled an arena that in past years felt like a mausoleum, they played beautiful basketball for months at a time.

  5. Bucks’ Jared Dudley: “Most guys don’t want to play with Kobe”

    May 27, 2015, 3:23 PM EDT

    Los Angeles Lakers v Los Angeles Clippers Getty Images

    Free agents will still come to the Lakers, but their pool may be smaller than some other teams because of Kobe.

  6. LeBron James: ‘I couldn’t foresee us being in The Finals at the beginning of the season’

    May 27, 2015, 1:10 PM EDT

    LeBron James AP

    Plenty has changed since LeBron re-joined the Cavaliers last summer.

  7. Report: Nets to explore trade market for Mason Plumlee

    May 27, 2015, 11:50 AM EDT

    Brooklyn Nets v Detroit Pistons Getty Images

    The offers won’t be as strong as they were in December.

  8. Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak: ‘Anywhere from 4-8 players could be in consideration’ for No. 2 pick in NBA Draft

    May 27, 2015, 11:10 AM EDT

    Mitch Kupchak AP

    Eight seems like too many, but Kupchak has proven that he knows what he’s doing.

  9. PBT Extra: Expect a healthy Stephen Curry for Game 5… sorry Houston

    May 27, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT

    Curry and this Warriors team are not going to crumble like the Clippers did.

  10. J.R. Smith takes selfie at podium after Cavaliers advance to Finals

    May 27, 2015, 2:02 AM EDT

    JR Smith Selfie

    J.R. Smith on the national stage of the Finals is going to be so much fun.

Featured video

Despite ending, Hawks had season to remember
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. S. Curry (7512)
  2. K. Irving (6978)
  3. K. Love (6256)
  4. L. James (5157)
  5. D. Howard (4952)
  1. D. Carroll (4436)
  2. K. Korver (4341)
  3. K. Bryant (4006)
  4. K. Durant (3793)
  5. A. Varejao (3773)