March on Washington: Thousands retrace March on Washington 50 years later
WASHINGTON (WJLA) - They sang and marched by the tens of thousands.
Throngs of people marched to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and down the National Mall on Saturday, commemorating the 50th anniversary of King's famous speech and pledging that his dream includes equality for gays, Latinos, the poor and the disabled.
The event was an homage to a generation of activists that endured fire hoses, police abuse and indignities to demand equality for African Americans. But there was a strong theme of unfinished business.
"This is not the time for nostalgic commemoration," said Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of the slain civil rights leader. "Nor is this the time for self-congratulatory celebration. The task is not done. The journey is not complete. We can and we must do more."
Eric Holder, the nation's first black attorney general, said he would not be in office, nor would Barack Obama be president, without those who marched.
"They marched in spite of animosity, oppression and brutality because they believed in the greatness of what this nation could become and despaired of the founding promises not kept," Holder said.
Holder mentioned gays and Latinos, women and the disabled as those who had yet to fully realize Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream. Others in the crowd advocated organized labor, voting rights, revamping immigration policies and access to local post offices.
It was a moment Roy White of D.C., like so many others, shared with a younger generation who had only read about the historic 1963 March on Washington.
"We couldn't get a job (back in 1963), but overall it was good because it brought people together,” white says of the 1963 march.
Just 11 years old, Payden Wilson of Alexandria marched alongside her mother and grandmother.
"It is one thing to be taught in school the history but to actually live it is another thing," she says.
Organizers expected about 100,000 people to participate in the event, the precursor to the actual anniversary of the Aug. 28, 1963, march.
Marchers began arriving early Saturday, many staking out their spots as the sun rose in a clear sky over the Capitol. By midday, tens of thousands had gathered on the National Mall.
Lynda Chambers, 58, gave up a day's pay to attend because her retail job does not provide paid vacation. Even as a 7-year-old at the time of the original march, she felt alienated and deprived of her rights. Remembering those feelings, she said, she was compelled to make the trip Saturday.
"I wanted to have some sort of connection to what I have always known, as far as being a black person," she said.
Speakers frequently mentioned persistent high unemployment among blacks, which is about twice that of white Americans, and the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida. Along the Mall, Martin's picture was nearly as ubiquitous as King's.
Longtime activist Al Sharpton, now a MSNBC host, implored young black men to respect women and reminded them that two of the leading figures in the civil rights movement of the 1960s were women.
"Rosa Parks wasn't no ho," he said. "And Fannie Lou Hamer wasn't no bitch."
"I'm here supporting this march because there are so many injustices in this country," said Alice Long, 59, who traveled from Huntsville, Ala. "I'm very concerned about it because I have a 5-year-old grandson and a 13-year-old granddaughter."
On the day of the anniversary, President Barack Obama will speak from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the same place King stood when he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.
Obama will be joined by former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Churches and groups have been asked to ring bells at 3 p.m. Wednesday, marking the exact time King spoke.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.