March on Washington: Thousands commemorate historic day

Participants gather at the National Mall. (Photo: Joshua Yospyn)

WASHINGTON (WJLA) - It was 50 years ago today that hundreds of thousands marched for equality in D.C. in what is now considered the largest march for human rights in American history.

It was here, on Aug. 28, 1963, that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his historic “I have a dream” speech. And it’s where President Barack Obama, America’s first black president, delivered a speech honoring King and his legacy.

Tens of thousands of people are on the National Mall and the Lincoln Memorial to hear Obama, former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and others speak.

At 3 p.m., bells rang nationwide to mark King's speech.

Obama remembered those who gathered at the nation's capital 50 years ago and spoke of their strength and courage.

"Because they marched, a Civil Rights law was passed. Because they marched, a Voting Rights law was signed,” Obama said. "Because they marched, America became more fair and more free."

He also made a point to highlight King's lasting influence.

"We best remember Dr. King’s soaring oratory that day—how he gave mighty voice to the quiet hopes of millions," Obama said.

Mamie Wyatt and Geraldine Nelson both came to the National Mall to take part in the celebrations. Despite both sitting on soggy grass near the Reflecting Pool, they were excited to be on the mall.

“I just wanted to experience this with everyone,” said Wyatt, 58. “Just feel the love.”

Nelson, 52, agreed.

“Anytime something is 50, it’s a golden memory,” she said.

For some, Wednesday’s march was a way to participate if they missed it 50 years ago.

"My parents would not allow me to come in 1963 even though I was in high school and I really wanted to come, so I am going to be here today," said D.C. resident Beth Lindley, who attended the march with her daughter and grandson.

Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, told those gathered for the 50th anniversary ceremony in Washington that, "We know today that everything is not okay."

Evers-Williams said there's too much of an emphasis in today's world on individuality - and how people can reach their own personal goals.

She challenged a new generation of parents and leaders to work on community building, saying "it is your problem ... these are our children."{ }

For Francis Monroe, Wednesday’s event was a chance to make some money.

The Atlanta resident created $5 souvenir badges complete with maps and barcodes to help people get around.

"We don't have to wait for anybody else to give us opportunity, we can make opportunity ourselves,” Monroe says.

For President Bill Clinton, this day 50 years ago in the shadows of the Lincoln Memorial, marks "one of the most important days in American history."

Clinton joined President Barack Obama and the family of Martin Luther King Jr. Wednesday to celebrate King's "I Have a Dream" speech and the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963.

The "march and that speech changed America," said Clinton, and "opened minds and melted hearts ... and moved millions."

Clinton said racial inequalities remain. But he said it's time to stop complaining and instead get to work - for better education opportunities for all children and implementing health care for all.

He said: "We must push open those stubborn gates" that are holding America back.{ }

Oprah Winfrey says Martin Luther King Jr. forced the nation "to wake up, look at itself and eventually change." She says the civil rights leader's lessons inspire people all over the world.

Winfrey said King recognized that Americans shared the same dreams and that their hopes weren't different based on race. She says King was right when he said all Americans' destinies are intertwined and would rise or fall based on how people treat their neighbors.{ }

Shawn Escoffery, 39, a city planner from Brooklyn N.Y. took a train to D.C. to commemorate the March and hear Obama speak during what he described as “troubled” times. Escoffery, who also works for a non-profit, said there’s still too much economic injustice in the world.

“We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go,” he said.

Reporting by the Associated Press, Skip Wood, Hatzel Vela and John Gonzalez.

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