To mark the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, Reverend Al Sharpton, John Lewis and Martin Luther King III were among the many who spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial Saturday, August 24, 2013. Each vowed to continue to fight the current challenges facing African-American and immigrant communities in the United States.
Saturday’s march was as much about jobs and justice today as it was 50 years ago. Tens of thousands of people, if not hundreds of thousands, surrounded the reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial to be part of this historic event to renew a call for action in the struggle for jobs in the quality of justice.
“Five decades ago — said Martin Luther King III — my father, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., stood upon this hallowed spot and the spirit of God spoke thru him and summoned a nation to repent and to redress the shameful sins long visited upon its African-American brothers and sisters.
“I, like you, continue to feel his presence. I, like you, continue to hear his voice crying out in the wilderness. The admonition is clear, this is not the time for a nostalgic commemoration, nor is this the time for self-congratulatory celebration. A task is not done. The journey is not complete. We can and we must do more.”
The junior King reminded the audience of his father’s dream about him growing up in a world where he would not be judged by the color of his skin. King then reminded everyone of the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s death.
“Sadly, the tears of Trayvon Martin’s mother and father remind us that far too frequently the color of one’s skin remains a license to profile, to arrest and even murder with no regard for the content of one’s character.”
The majority of attendees at the anniversary march were not present, or even born, at the time of the original 1963 rally. A growing sense of inequality in the criminal justice system – a system that many believe supports outcomes like the Trayvon Martin case and the acquittal of his killer – bonded many of the attendees.
Some, like Sheritha Davis, of Chicago, came simply to be a part of history. “I remember being 5 years old and my librarian teacher showing me the pictures from the 1963 march [she attended]. That moment was so important to her; she wanted to seal it in to all of us. She was just a little dot in the crowd but she remembered that and it stuck in my mind. That’s something I want to look on and tell my kids and my grandkids ‘I was there.’
Congressman John Lewis was a featured speaker at the 1963 march. At the anniversary march, he spoke of that time but also looked toward the future. He recalled the importance of voting and the vote itself. “One man one vote,” he said, is an integral part of being American. Lewis reminded everyone of bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma Alabama.
“I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma Alabama for the right to vote. I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us. You cannot stand by; you cannot sit down. You’ve got to stand up, speak up, speak out and get in the way,” Lewis told a cheering crowd.
New, or changing, voter ID laws have become a target for Al Sharpton, the National Action Network, and other civil and human rights groups. Sharpton said there would be a renewed focus on states that have suppressive voter ID laws.
Sharpton also referenced a famous quote from Dr. King’s speech, in which he mentioned a check marked “insufficient funds.”
“We re-deposited the check… It bounced again… This time it was marked stop payment.” said Sharpton. “They have the money to bail out banks. They have the money to bail out major corporations. They have the money to give tax benefits to the rich. But when it comes to head start, when it comes to municipal workers, when it comes to our teachers, they stopped the check. We’re going to make you make the check good or we’re going to close down the bank.”
This article represents the original reporting of the author.