There was a moment, early in the event, when long-burning tension between Sharpton and the newer, younger activists flared into the open. At the focal point of the gathering were speakers, many with connections to Sharpton and the NAN. The younger activists were disgusted, angry with Sharpton and convinced that this was a march for his aggrandizement, not a protest for justice and radical change. Some took to the stage to demand the microphone, and one woman—Johnetta Elzie, who said she was tear-gassed while protesting in Ferguson—gave a sharp critique. “This movement was started by the young people. We started this. It should be young people all over this stage. It should be young people all up here.” The mic was cut, and the activists folded back into the crowd. The march began, with thousands listening to Sharpton and other approved voices.
It’s noteworthy that Selma had a similar—if quieter—moment between SNCC representatives James Forman and John Lewis and the on-site leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, including King. Forman, in particular, was frustrated with King’s attempt to claim leadership and displace SNCC activities. King’s argument—the reason he thought he was right to take control—was that he and the SCLC had a record of getting results. And while they didn’t have the grassroots connections of the SNCC activists, they knew how to channel anger into action and action into accomplishment.