Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images
Sixty years ago, approximately 250,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in the nation’s capital. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered that day, August 28, 1963, has since become a primary symbol of the fight for racial and social equality.
On Saturday, tens of thousands of people gathered in the same place to declare that their dream was in jeopardy – that America had backed down in its fight against hatred and intolerance.
“Sixty years ago, Martin Luther King spoke of a dream. Sixty years later, we are the dreamers,” said civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton, who heads the National Action Network, one of two groups that organized the rally.
The non-profit Drum Major Institute co-hosted the event, which was billed as ‘not a commemoration’ but a ‘continuation’ of King’s vision after a year of Supreme Court rulings and legislation nationalism that set back racial progress.
Speakers called for an end to hate and bigotry
The five-hour program featured dozens of high-profile speakers who highlighted the prevalence of civil rights violations, such as systemic racism, hate speech, hate crimes, police brutality, gun violence, poverty, loss of the right to vote and the breakdown of reproductive rights. human rights, to name but a few topics that surfaced.
“We are here to liberate the soul of the nation, the soul of democracy from those forces that would have us recoil and perish rather than advance as brothers and sisters,” said Arndrea Waters King, the beautiful -daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., one of many family members who spoke at the event.
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
People carried ‘Black Lives Matter’ banners and ‘I have a dream’ T-shirts as they listened to speeches and marched to King’s memorial statue. Many took refuge in the shade of the trees along the Lincoln Memorial as temperatures soared into the 80s.
Despite the crowds, rugby matches went ahead as planned in the mall, while joggers and bikers kept to their route, according to an Associated Press report. The sound of planes taking off from nearby Ronald Regan National Airport echoed through some speakers.
And while the crowd size may have been less than the quarter of a million people in attendance in 1963, Saturday’s event showed undeniable signs of progress. Most of the speakers who took the podium were women: only one speaker was present during the original walk.
And just as this year’s list of speakers was more diverse, so were the issues they highlighted.
Actor Sasha Baron Cohen has called for an end to anti-Semitism. Parkland school shooting survivor David Hogg called on younger generations to run for office in response to gun violence.
Democratic members of Congress, including South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn and New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, have called for federal voting rights to be protected as some states continue to restrict election rules.
Activists say the progress made by the King generation is under threat
King’s 1963 speech is credited with helping pave the way for major federal voting rights legislation, as well as the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. But retaliation and violence also followed.
Just two weeks after the rally, four black children were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. A year later, suffrage protesters were brutally beaten as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge near Selma.
Commemorations of the first rally in 1963 have taken place over the decades, and King’s speech continues to resonate – both serving as major symbols of America’s push and pull toward justice.
Tens of thousands marched in Washington following the 2020 police killing of George Floyd, while millions across the country took part in protests and rallies for racial justice.
For some, Saturday’s event is another poignant measure of all the work that remains to be done.
“I often look back and towards the Reflection Pool and the Washington Monument and see a quarter of a million people 60 years ago and just a trickle now,” said Marsha Dean Phelts of Amelia Island, Florida. , to the P.
“It was busier then. But the things that we asked for and needed, we still need today,” she added.
Several leaders who helped organize the march met Friday with Attorney General Merrick Garland and Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke. They discussed a range of issues, including policing, the red line and the right to vote.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will mark the true anniversary of the march on Monday by meeting with organizers of the 1963 rally, the AP reported.