By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Malverse Nicholson recalls covering King’s visit to the region for the Norfolk Journal and Guide. Now, Nicholson, 85, is part of a very unique class of journalists: one of the last living African American reporters who covered the first March on August 28, 1963.
Come August 26, members of King’s Family and representatives from various Civil Rights Groups will re-stage the 60th Anniversary of the Great March at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial.
Nicholson from 1962 to 1968, according to an October 5, 1968 edition, was a general assignment and Sports Reporter for the GUIDE. He held other media-related positions before joining the staff at Norfolk State University, starting in 1979, first as Assistant to the Vice President for Development, then Assistant to President Harrison B. Wilson and the school’s Legislative Affairs Office. He retired from NSU in 2000.
In 1963, Nicholson covered an event for the GUIDE at Peanut Park in Suffolk which King attended. King also visited various venues in Norfolk, where he stayed at the then new Golden Triangle Hotel downtown.
Nicholson recalled convincing King to take a picture with him in the hotel.
Nicholson, 23, and married with two children, also was an English and Journalism teacher at Crestwood High at the same time. He wrote about events at Crestwood and in 1962, John Q. Jordan, the GUIDE’s Executive Editor, impressed with his skills, had hired him.
Nicholson was low man on the newsroom totem pole, he said. Thomas Young, who had been running the paper for several years, was in control.
His father, P.B. Young Sr., the paper’s founder, had passed a year before in 1962.
Jordan ran the news operation at the paper’s three-story headquarters on Church and Wide Streets. Thomas Dabney, P.B. Young Jr., Sportswriter Cal Jacox, and social writer Undine Young were still playing their trade as the senior reporters in their areas. Nicholson’s family resided in Lambert’s Point.
With King visiting Tidewater, as Hampton Roads was called then, news of the March was building, but the old hands at the GUIDE were not impressed, Nicholson recalled.
“They did not think much of it at all,” said Nicholson, who now lives in Chesapeake. “They did not think many people would attend. They thought it was going to be just another March with a few speeches. So, they gave the story to me. No one realized how much of a story and event it would turn out to be, otherwise, I would not have been assigned the story.”
Jordan, Nicholson recalled, bought him tickets for a charter bus sponsored by the Norfolk NAACP to D.C. which arrived in the nation’s capital around 10 a.m. on a Wednesday morning.
“The bus was full,” recalled Nicholson. “The only people I remember were Attorney J. Hugo Madison and Vivian Carter Mason. After we got off the bus, I picked up my press credentials, which allowed me to roam all over the place.”
Nicholson said that he recalled all of the businesses in D.C. were closed, and the streets were empty of cars and pedestrians.
As time passed the Mall filled with commoners and celebrities and political royalties such as Dick Gregory, Sammy Davis, Jr., Charleston Heston, and others.
“There were people from all over the country and I ran across some interesting stories of why people attended the March,” he recalled. “I managed to work my way to the front of the Lincoln Memorial, up the stairs, and got a spot near the podium. I got a good view of the sea of people the speakers were looking down at that day.”
Nicholson said he saw all of the key speakers milling about, waiting to make their speeches. What Nicholson and other reporters did not know was that all of the speeches had been screened by the Kennedy White House and March organizers.
The White House feared not only violence but political backlash because the March symbolized the growing power of the Civil Rights Movement led by Black people.
There was no violence. There were only three arrests of three white men, according to the Associated Press. Two were members of the NAZI Party who tried to stage counter-protests. The other man was caught with a loaded shotgun in his car.
The Freedom Rides and Sit-ins had got underway three years before. The Kennedy administration had been clashing with Alabama Governor George Wallace over desegregating the state’s main university. King had launched his southern campaign in Alabama and Georgia. NAACP Leader Medgar Evers had been shot to death three months before in Mississippi.
Nicholson said he managed to convince a staff member of Bayard Rustin’s organizing team to give him copies of all of the speeches to be delivered that day, including Dr. King’s.
He carried those back to Norfolk, and the Editors used them to compile a story on the messages of the March.
Nicholson was tasked with capturing the views of the people and the atmosphere. He did not recall much about any of the speeches before King, who had an approved and prepared speech.
But at the urging of Mahalia Jackson, King abandoned his prepared text and used his “I Have a Dream” oratory he had been delivering at venues prior to August 28.
It was the last captured legacy of the March.
“The speech fired people up,” said Nicholson. “I could see that the people were excited about what he said. That was the Legacy of the March.”
Nicholson said that most white newspapers gave little attention to the March.
“If it were not for the GUIDE and other Black Newspapers, the March would have gotten little coverage,” said Nicholson. “The March brought attention to Dr. King and the Movement. It reminded me of where we were at that time in history.”
“I am glad they are having an anniversary,” he said. “It will show the current generation just how far we have come … and how far we have to go as a people.”