March on Washington Anniversary Organizers Aim for Change


Martin Luther King III, surrounding by fellow civil rights leaders, tells his dream for the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
PHOTO: Ebonie Riley/National Action Network

At the time of the Aug. 28, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, there were 22 million people living in poverty in America. Upon the 50th Anniversary this year, that number has nearly tripled to 60 million.

This according to Martin Luther King III who has joined with dozens of civil and human rights leaders to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the march led by his father. A press conference held at the National Press Club on Monday drew dozens of well-known religious, civic and labor leaders, all vowing to unite and not only commemorate but renew the fight for equality and justice. They expect at least 10,000 to converge on Washington, D.C. for at least five days of events.

“This is almost like a campaign,” King said. “First I’d like to think that we’d achieved the dream that Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned for our nation and parts of our world. But I’m sad to say that we have not achieved that dream. And so while some will see this as a commemoration, it is truly a continuation of being in the struggle of organizing communities around this nation – again, not just for this day.”

King continued, “We already know the issues. We know the issues around immigration. We know the issues around voting, we know the issues around poverty and no jobs in this country; We know that in 1963 there were 22 million people living in poverty, roughly and today there are nearly 60 million – unacceptable in a nation with so much wealth and so many resources and so much ingenuity. And the only way that we can change this is creating the right climate.”

Among dozens of organizational heads in attendance were King’s sister, the Rev. Bernice King, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who presided at the press conference, Ben Jealous of the NAACP, Melanie Campbell of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Charles Steele of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Dr. E. Faye Williams of the National Congress of Black Women.

Sharpton stressed that the 50th anniversary commemoration will not be a one-day event. “This will be the realigning of a coalition that will go and impact and affect where we are going in this country for the next several years and decades to come,” he said.

Unlike 1963, he said women and gays will play prominent roles on the forefront of the March and activities, indicating how today’s civil rights leaders have ended misogynistic ways, he said. Moreover, the desire is to impact the nation for the better, Sharpton said.

“Like what Dr. King, Roy Wilkins, A. Phillip Randolph and Dr. [Dorothy] Height did in 1963 led to the ‘64 Civil Rights Act and the ‘65 Voting Rights Act, what we do in this August we intend to help shape and change legislation and the body politic and the spirit of this country going forward,” Sharpton said. “And we intend to address the powers in the kingdom and make change happen.”

Rev. Bernice King, president of the Martin Luther King Center for Social Change, who has taken the lead in organizing the five-day event, ticked off numerous festivities, including the commemorative march on Washington, slated for Saturday, August 24. More details, including times and locations, will be announced later, but the following are among the events she outlined:

  • Thursday and Friday, June 22 and 23 a string of town hall meetings, youth trainings, forums, receptions and a women’s intergenerational dialogue will take place.
  • On Saturday, August 24, there will be the march on the Washington Mall, but also a “global freedom festival” will open on the mall. She described the global festival as four days of education, entertainment and activities for families and youth.
  • On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, August 25, 26, and 27, there will be youth initiatives focused mainly on educating the next generation.
  • On Wednesday, Aug. 28, the actual anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, a 9 a.m. Interfaith Service will be held at the foot of the King Memorial, the Stone of Hope. She said it will feature tributes from children and adults.
  • Also on Wednesday, Aug. 28, at 1 p.m., there will be a “Let Freedom Ring Global Commemoration Celebration Call to Action” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. That event will include tributes and entertainment from leaders; culminating with a “Let Freedom Ring” bell ringing at 3 p.m. She said states are asked to participate the bell-ringing, “recommitting ourselves” to continue the work of freedom.

“Struggle is a never-ending process,” she quoted her mother, Coretta Scott King. “We are still fighting for freedom. This is a continuation of the freedom struggle.”

The leaders of the commemoration are hoping for a new movement that will sweep the nation:

“I am confident and convinced that our nation can and must and will do better,” said King III. “But, it is our responsibility to challenge this nation. And again, that’s why we will come together in large numbers on August 24. But we will be going around to communities all over this nation over the next 24 months, mobilizing at every level bringing business leaders, community leaders, religious leaders and elected officials together to determine how we’re going to define a strategic plan that brings about that freedom, justice and equality for our communities and ultimately for our nation.”



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