The March on Washington, 50 Years Later

Martin Luther King, Jr. (left), Senator Everett Dirksen, R-Ill. (right), and John Lewis (far right) meet shortly before King's "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington in August 1963.
National Journal
Mike Magner
Add to Briefcase
Mike Magner
Aug. 18, 2013, 7:37 a.m.

For the next 10 days Wash­ing­ton will be trans­por­ted a half-cen­tury back in time to re­live one of the most power­ful and de­fin­ing mo­ments in Amer­ic­an his­tory.

The March on Wash­ing­ton brought more than a quarter-mil­lion people to the na­tion’s cap­it­al on Aug. 28, 1963, for what many con­sider a key turn­ing point in the civil-rights move­ment. The his­tor­ic rally was high­lighted by the “I Have a Dream” speech de­livered by the Rev. Mar­tin Luth­er King Jr. on the steps of the Lin­coln Me­mori­al.

Few real­ized it at the time — King’s speech did not even make the front page of The Wash­ing­ton Post the next day — but the calls for equal justice that echoed across the Na­tion­al Mall 50 years ago would be at least par­tially real­ized a year later with en­act­ment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Now, in the face of some erosion of the land­mark law and dur­ing a time of on­go­ing ra­cial ten­sions in the United States, hun­dreds of thou­sands of march­ers plan to re­turn to Wash­ing­ton to com­mem­or­ate the events of 1963 with not one, but two massive ral­lies on the Mall and a week-long series of ser­vices, dis­cus­sions, and cel­eb­ra­tions centered around the theme of “Jobs, Justice, and Free­dom.”

“The re­sponse to our call to com­mem­or­ate the March on Wash­ing­ton and my fath­er’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech has been over­whelm­ing,” said Ber­nice A. King, who was ex­actly five months old when her fath­er gave his best-known speech. “We ex­pect hun­dreds of thou­sands of people to join us in the na­tion’s cap­it­al for this his­tor­ic event, and many more to take part world­wide in their com­munit­ies.”

King, who now heads the fam­ily’s King Cen­ter in At­lanta, has been the driv­ing force be­hind the com­mem­or­a­tion events that kick off in Wash­ing­ton on Wed­nes­day with a wor­ship ser­vice at the Mt. Airy Baptist Church just north of the Cap­it­ol.

But since the ini­tial or­gan­iz­ing meet­ing about a year ago in At­lanta, at­ten­ded by about 30 civil-rights lead­ers, at least 200 people have been work­ing stead­ily to plan a series of events that would ap­pro­pri­ately mark the 50th an­niversary of the March on Wash­ing­ton, said King Cen­ter spokes­man Steve Klein.

The biggest event in terms of par­ti­cipants will be the “Real­ize the Dream March and Rally” to be held Sat­urday on the Na­tion­al Mall. Or­gan­ized by Mar­tin Luth­er King III, King’s old­est son, and the Rev. Al Sharpton, lead­er of the Na­tion­al Ac­tion Net­work based in Har­lem, “it is go­ing to be huge,” Klein said. “Nobody knows” how many people will show up, but it will al­most cer­tainly be in the hun­dreds of thou­sands, he said.

Par­ti­cipants will gath­er at the Lin­coln Me­mori­al on Sat­urday morn­ing “to stand to­geth­er against the re­cent at­tack on voter rights, against Stand Your Ground and ra­cial pro­fil­ing, and to con­tin­ue to raise aware­ness on un­em­ploy­ment, poverty, gun vi­ol­ence, im­mig­ra­tion, gay rights and oth­er crit­ic­al is­sues af­fect­ing our na­tion,” the Na­tion­al Ac­tion Net­work said in a state­ment about the rally.

On Fri­day the “Glob­al Free­dom Fest­iv­al” be­gins in West Po­tom­ac Park and will con­tin­ue through the week­end. The fest­iv­al is sponsored by the King Cen­ter and groups in­volved in the 1963 march, in­clud­ing the NAACP, the South­ern Chris­ti­an Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence, and the Na­tion­al Urb­an League.

The main event will be the “Let Free­dom Ring Com­mem­or­a­tion and Call to Ac­tion Ce­re­mony” at the Lin­coln Me­mori­al on the af­ter­noon of  Aug. 28. Pres­id­ent Obama will speak from the same spot where King gave the “I Have a Dream” speech. He will be joined by former Pres­id­ents Carter and Clin­ton and a host of polit­ic­al and cul­tur­al lead­ers, in­clud­ing act­or Jam­ie Foxx and Lynda John­son Robb, daugh­ter of the pres­id­ent who signed the Civil Rights Act.

Some mem­bers of Con­gress are ex­pec­ted to par­ti­cip­ate in the week of events, even though the Au­gust re­cess has most law­makers away from Wash­ing­ton. The Con­gres­sion­al Black Caucus held a com­mem­or­a­tion of the March on Wash­ing­ton be­fore re­cess began and many of its mem­bers plan to par­ti­cip­ate in Sat­urday’s march, said CBC spokes­wo­man Ay­ofemi Kirby.

What We're Following See More »
CFPB Decision May Reverberate to Other Agencies
43 minutes ago

"A federal appeals court's decision that declared the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau an arm of the White House relies on a novel interpretation of the constitution's separation of powers clause that could have broader effects on how other regulators" like the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Morning Consult Poll: Clinton Decisively Won Debate
54 minutes ago

"According to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, the first national post-debate survey, 43 percent of registered voters said the Democratic candidate won, compared with 26 percent who opted for the Republican Party’s standard bearer. Her 6-point lead over Trump among likely voters is unchanged from our previous survey: Clinton still leads Trump 42 percent to 36 percent in the race for the White House, with Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson taking 9 percent of the vote."

Twitter Bots Dominated First Debate
1 hours ago

Twitter bots, "automated social media accounts that interact with other users," accounted for a large part of the online discussion during the first presidential debate. Bots made up 22 percent of conversation about Hillary Clinton on the social media platform, and a whopping one third of Twitter conversation about Donald Trump.

Center for Public Integrity to Spin Off Journalism Arm
2 hours ago

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the nonprofit that published the Panama Papers earlier this year, is being spun off from its parent organization, the Center for Public Integrity. According to a statement, "CPI’s Board of Directors has decided that enabling the ICIJ to chart its own course will help both journalistic teams build on the massive impact they have had as one organization."

EPA Didn’t Warn Flint Residents Soon Enough
2 hours ago

According to a new report, the Environmental Protection Agency waited too long before informing the residents of Flint, Mich. that their water was contaminated with lead. Written by the EPA's inspector general, it places blame squarely at the foot of the agency itself, saying it had enough information by June 2015 to issue an emergency order. However, the order wasn't issued until the end of January 2016.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.