WASHINGTON — Four days shy of the 50th anniversary of the historic 1963 March on Washington, thousands rallied in the capitol once more on Saturday to continue the fight for justice and equality in America.
Throughout the day at the “National Action to Realize the Dream” rally, activists, leaders and icons in the realms civil rights, women’s rights, labor, and LGBT rights addressed the crowd from a podium at the Lincoln Memorial, the same spot where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech 50 years ago.
They urged the crowd to honor King’s legacy by continuing his struggle for equality.
“Fifty years ago I stood right here in this spot,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who at 23 was the youngest speaker at the 1963 march. “I’m here again to say that those days for the most part are gone, but we have another fight. We must stand up and fight the good fight today.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who was also in attendance in 1963, said that King “would want us to celebrate his legacy by realizing the dream.”
The California Democrat joined a large coalition of women who addressed the crowd on Saturday, including leaders from the National Organization for Women and Planned Parenthood, as well as Dr. Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of Medgar Evers, who was assassinated just weeks before the 1963 march. These women, along with leaders from the LGBT, Latino and Asian-American communities, helped this year’s march stand in stark contrast to 1963, when only one woman spoke and the struggles of those groups went unmentioned.
“We all need to unite and get well together,” said Rev. Al Sharpton, whose National Action Network, in conjunction with Martin Luther King III, organized the rally. “We should not be comparing pain, we should be strategizing.”
Sharpton, who was the keynote speaker, evoked Dr. King when he said the “check” promising equality to communities of color had “bounced again.”
King III, the oldest son of Dr. King who was a toddler during the original march, said that while his father’s dream has not yet been realized, he would be pleased to see the thousands gathered Saturday.
“I know that daddy is smiling from above,” King said. “I can almost hear my father humming the anthem of the movement, ‘people get ready, there’s a train comin’.'’”
From gun violence to voting rights, from unemployment to immigration reform, speakers had plenty of fodder to fire up their audience.
It was the fight for voting rights in her home state of North Carolina that led 83-year-old Margaret Misch to hop on a bus to join the rally Saturday morning.
“It’s devastating for some of us who’ve seen all of the progress that has occurred in North Carolina decimated,” Misch said. Though she wasn’t at the March on Washington in 1963, Misch said she has been protesting since 1968 — most recently at the Moral Monday demonstrations in Raleigh, N.C., where she and over 900 others were arrested between late April and August.
“I’m glad to be a part of a moment that’s bringing people together to enliven them that we need to do something,” Misch said.
There were throngs of stories like Misch’s, and throngs of people who traveled from all over to celebrate King’s legacy. Many, including Amir Kahn, 56, of Camden, N.J., brought their children and grandchildren. Others, like Washington resident Lela Bearrow, came alone.
Fifty years ago, Bearrow was in the audience. Though her view was obstructed and her feet ached from standing for the duration of the rally after walking to the National Mall from a church on 16th Street, she remembers Aug. 28, 1963 as a beautiful day.
“We knew we had nothing to fear,” Bearrow said.
On Saturday, Bearrow returned to the Lincoln Memorial, but this time she took a seat and had a better view. She said she hopes this event wasn’t just a “rally for rallying’s sake.”
“Back then, Dr. King had high expectations and hopes,” Bearrow said. “It seems as though we’re stifled in reference to whether we’re going to stand still or move forward.”