Political News

Another march on Washington remembers MLK's dream

Posted August 28, 2013

— Taking stock of progress made and still to come, Americans of all backgrounds and colors massed on the National Mall on Wednesday to hear President Barack Obama and civil rights pioneers commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech on the same spot where he gave unforgettable voice to the struggle for racial equality 50 years earlier.

It was a moment rich with history and symbolism – the first black president standing where King first sketched his dream.

Marchers walked the streets of Washington behind a replica of the transit bus that Rosa Parks once rode when she refused to give up her seat to a white man. Later, a bell that once hung in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., before the church was bombed in 1963 rang out on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Two former presidents, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, spoke movingly of King's legacy – and of problems still to overcome – as Obama listened.

"This march, and that speech, changed America," Clinton declared, remembering the impact on the world and himself as a young man. "They opened minds, they melted hearts and they moved millions, including a 17-year-old boy watching alone in his home in Arkansas."

Carter said King's efforts had helped not just black Americans, but "In truth, he helped to free all people."

Still, Carter listed a string of current events that he said would have spurred King to action in this day, including the proliferation of guns and stand-your-ground laws, a Supreme Court ruling striking down parts of the Voting Rights Act and high rates of joblessness among blacks.

Oprah Winfrey, leading the celebrity contingent, recalled watching the march as a 9-year-old girl and wishing she could be there to see a young man who "was able to force an entire country to wake up, to look at itself and to eventually change."

"It's an opportunity today to recall where we once were in this nation," she said.

Setting an energetic tone for the day, civil rights veteran Andrew Young, a former U.N. ambassador and congressman, sang an anthem of the civil rights movement and urged the crowd to join in as he belted out: "I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom." He ended his remarks by urging the crowd to "fight on."

Civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams, whose husband Medgar Evers was murdered in 1963, said that, while the country "has certainly taken a turn backwards" on civil rights, she was energized to move ahead and exhorted others to step forward as well.

Obama marks March on Washington Obama marks March on Washington

Tens of thousands assembled in soggy weather at the Lincoln Memorial, where King, with soaring, rhythmic oratory and a steely countenance, had pleaded with Americans to come together to stomp out racism and create a land of opportunity for all.

White and black, they came this time to recall history – and live it.

"My parents did their fair share and I feel like we have to keep the fight alive," said Frantz Walker, a honey salesman from Baltimore who is black. "This is hands-on history."

"This is monumental," said Connie Bragg, of Raleigh. "In my lifetime, I'll probably never see something like this again.

"One person made this happen," Bragg said, referring to King. "That's what is really amazing and remarkable."

North Carolina Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, said he was proud to attend the event, noting his father was among the speakers during the 1963 march.

"It's a wonderful opportunity to celebrate, really, all that they accomplished in their lifetimes to have taken us where we are," McKissick said.

Kevin Keefe, a Navy lawyer who is white, said he still tears up when he hears King's speech.

"What happened 50 years ago was huge," he said, adding that there's still progress to be made on economic inequality and other problems.

King's eldest son, Martin Luther King III, just 5 when his father spoke at the Mall, spoke of a dream "not yet realized" in full.

"We've got a lot of work to do but none of us should be any ways tired," he said. "Why? Because we've come much too far from where we started."

Decades later, thousands gather in DC to honor march, King Decades later, thousands gather in DC to honor march, King

Organizers of the rally broadened the focus well beyond racial issues, bringing speakers forward to address the environment, gay rights, the challenges facing the disabled and more. The performers, too, were an eclectic crowd, ranging from Maori haka dancers to LeAnn Rimes singing "Amazing Grace."

Jamie Foxx tried to fire up a new generation of performers and ordinary "young folks" by drawing on the example of Harry Belafonte, who stood with King 50 years ago.

"It's time for us to stand up now and renew this dream," Foxx declared.

Forest Whitaker told the crowd it was their "moment to join those silent heroes of the past."

"You now have the responsibility to carry the torch."

NBA legend Bill Russell told the crowd he'd been at the 1963 march as an "interested bystander" and quipped with a smile, "It's nice to be anywhere 50 years later."

Turning serious, he added: "You only register progress by how far you have to go.... The fight has just begun, and we can never accept the status quo until the word 'progress' is taken out of our vocabulary."

Slate gray skies gave way to sunshine briefly peeking from the clouds as the "Let Freedom Ring" commemoration unfolded. After that, a steady rain.

Among faces in the crowd: lawyer Ollie Cantos of Arlington, Va., there with his 14-year-old triplets Leo, Nick and Steven. All four are blind, and they moved through the crowd with their hands on each other's shoulders, in a makeshift train.

Cantos, who is Filipino, said he brought his sons to help teach them the continuing fight for civil rights.

"The disability rights movement that I'm a part of, that I dedicate my life to, is actually an extension of the original civil rights movement," he said. "I wanted to do everything I can to school the boys in the ways of the civil rights movement and not just generally but how it effects them personally."

D.C. plumber Jerome Williams, whose family tree includes North Carolina sharecroppers, took the day off work to come with his wife and two kids. "It's a history lesson that they can take with them for the rest of their lives," he said.

It seemed to work. His son Jalen, marking his 17th birthday, said, "I'm learning the history and the stories from my dad. I do appreciate what I do have now."

Historic significance of DC gathering not lost on many Historic significance of DC gathering not lost on many

The significance of the event registered with people of all ages, including 13-year-old Kimathi Muiruri of Canada.

"I think it's a good time to reflect now that it's the 50th anniversary. What have we done well since that historic speech and that historic march?" Muiruri said. "What can we do to improve upon this great idea that he had, that he gave birth to for us to nurture and grow into a reality, not just an idea?"

Performers included Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey, their voices thinner now than when they performed at the original march as part of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary. They sang "Blowin' in the Wind" as the parents of slain black teenager Trayvon Martin joined them on stage and sang along. The third member of the trio, Mary Travers, died in 2009.

The scheduled appearance later Wednesday of Obama embodied the fulfilled dreams of hundreds of thousands who rallied there in 1963. Obama has not often talked publicly about racial issues in the time he has been president. He did, however, talk at some length about the challenges he faced as a young black male as he discussed the case of Martin, the Florida teenager killed in a confrontation with neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.

Also joining the day's events were Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, daughter of Lyndon Johnson, the president who signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and Caroline Kennedy, daughter of John F. Kennedy.

Obama considers the 1963 march a "seminal event" and part of his generation's "formative memory." A half-century after the march, he said, is a good time to reflect on how far the country has come and how far it still has to go.

In an interview Tuesday on Tom Joyner's radio show, Obama said he imagines that King "would be amazed in many ways about the progress that we've made" but he also took note of work yet to do.

"When it comes to the economy, when it comes to inequality, when it comes to wealth, when it comes to the challenges that inner cities experience, he would say that we have not made as much progress as the civil and social progress that we've made," the president said.

Bush, in a statement, said Obama's presidency is a story that reflects "the promise of America" and "will help us honor the man who inspired millions to redeem that promise." A spokesman said the former president declined to attend because he was recovering from a recent heart procedure.


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  • Bartmeister Aug 28, 2013

    What does trayvon martin's parents have to do with all of this? Keeping in the public eye is all. Otherwise known as cashing in.

  • 426X3 Aug 28, 2013

    678devilish: Obama is whatever race seems to be popular for the day. Same with his claims of faith/religion.

  • AliceBToklas Aug 28, 2013

    There are more black racists than there are white.
    --Proud Black Constitutionalist

    Please, step out from behind the curtain and show your data. I don't see that in my world.

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Aug 28, 2013

    Proud Black Constitutionalist - "There are more black racists than there are white."

    Please help us understand where you found proof of that statement.

    Since there are far more whites in the US than there are blacks, I'd find that hard to believe, even though the vast majority of whites are NOT racist.

    Most just want to live and let live - peacefully!

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Aug 28, 2013

    And by the way shaunferriss - MLK,Jr. NEVER sanctioned riots or law-breaking of any kind that I recall.

    There were people within the group who did so, but thousands were with him. He could not be expected to control them all.

    For instance, when they marched through Atlanta, they entered restaurants to use the bathrooms. When the lines were too long for some of them, some started relieving themselves on floors, and in coffee cups and sugar bowls on the tables. One restaurant was owned by Lester Maddox who chased them out with a firearm. THAT was on the news. What the news didn't show was Lester's restaurant staff, most of whom were blacks themselves, chasing these same people out with brooms and mops.

    Lester took the brunt of that publicity and was called a racist when he was NOT a racist, he just expected people to act like ladies and gentlemen in his restaurant, and when they didn't, they were shown the door.

    MLK,Jr. didn't tell those people to do that, nor did he condone it.

  • Go Lee County Aug 28, 2013

    These outcomes should raise several questions. In sports, when have you heard a coach explain or excuse a black player's poor performance by blaming it on a "legacy of slavery" or on that player's being raised in a single-parent household? When have you heard sports standards called racist or culturally biased? I have yet to hear a player, much less a coach, speak such nonsense. In fact, the standards of performance in sports are just about the most ruthless anywhere. Excuses are not tolerated. Think about it. What happens to a player, black or white, who doesn't come up to a college basketball or football coach's standards? He's off the team. Players know this, and they make every effort to excel. They do so even more if they have aspirations to be a professional player. By the way, blacks also excel in the entertainment industry -- another industry in which there's ruthless dog-eat-dog competition.

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Aug 28, 2013

    BlahBlahBlahBlahBlah -

    "Racism is not inborn..It is taught...and it is taught on both sides."

    It is indeed! Black people have as many slur titles for whites as whites have for blacks. If it's wrong for some to say and do it, it's wrong for ALL to say and do it.

    Without forgiveness, we will never move forward in this issue.

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Aug 28, 2013

    678devilish - "Is it really equal for all? How about the courts system? Is that fair to all? No!!!"

    You took and used my words totally out of context.

    How about women doing the same jobs men are doing, yet are getting paid less - sometimes far less!?!

    MLK,Jr. worked for that too.

  • Proud Black Constitutionalist Aug 28, 2013

    It's a darn shame that the nation's only black senator, the only black supreme court justice and the nation's finest black neurosurgeon were not invited. It just proves that this is no more than a liberal progressive rally.

  • AliceBToklas Aug 28, 2013

    BlahBlahBlahBlahBlah - It's not about the past, it's about the present. More importantly, it's about the future.