US marks the dream that Martin Luther King had 50 years ago marching for new fight on civil rights

US marks the dream that Martin Luther King had 50 years ago marching for new fight on civil rights

US marks the dream that Martin Luther King had 50 years ago marching for new fight on civil rights

Students of Howard University march from campus to Lincoln Memorial to participate in Realize the Dream Rally for 50th anniversary of the March in Washington, Aug. 24. REUTERS photo

Thousands of marchers Aug. 24 kicked off the 50th anniversary events for the March on Washington, honoring the civil rights progress made since the watershed 1963 event. Many also bemoaned what they see as an attack on that progress since Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his stirring "I have a Dream" speech.

Marchers began arriving early Aug. 24 to gather on the National Mall, many staking out their spots as the sun rose in a clear sky over the Capitol.

Organizers have planned for about 100,000 people to participate in the event, which is the precursor to the actual anniversary of the Aug. 28, 1963, march.

The March on Washington drew some 250,000 people to the National Mall, ushered in the idea of massive, nonviolent demonstrations and helped bring about the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Fifty years later, there is an undeniable symbol of the progress made toward King's vision of equality for all: America's first black president, Barack Obama.

Organizers of the march hoped this year's event would serve to inspire people again to educate themselves about issues they see as making up the modern civil rights struggle.


Marchers hold signs during the 50th
anniversary of the 1963 March for
Jobs and Freedom at the Lincoln
Memorial. REUTERS  photo

They cite a recent Supreme Court ruling that effectively erased a key anti-discrimination provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and persistent unemployment among African-Americans, which is about double that of white Americans. Also looming over the anniversary is the Florida shooting death of unarmed black teenage Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman.

"It's very difficult to stomach the fact that Trayvon wasn't committing any crime. He was on his way home from the store," Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon's mother, said Friday as she prepared to participate in the march. "Don't wait until it's at your front door. Don't wait until something happens to your child. ... This is the time to act now. This is the time to get involved."

The event was being led by the Rev. Al Sharpton and King's son Martin Luther King III. After several speeches, participants will walk the half-mile from the Lincoln Memorial to the 2-year-old memorial.

A 21st century agenda for civil rights

On the day of the anniversary, Obama will speak from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the same place King stood when he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. Obama will be joined by former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Churches and groups have been asked to ring bells at 3 p.m. Aug. 28, marking the exact time King spoke.

On Aug. 23, a coalition of black leaders issued what they said is the 21st century agenda for the nation as it marks the watershed civil rights event that helped bring about the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The 1963 march drew some 250,000 to the National Mall and ushered in the idea of massive, nonviolent demonstrations.

The leaders named economic parity, equity in education, voting rights, health care access and criminal justice reform as national policy priorities.

Alice Long planned months ago to use vacation time to travel from Huntsville, Alabama, to the 50th anniversary events.

Long, a NASA administrative assistant, brought along her grandchildren to give them a close-up view of African-American and civil rights history that she said isn't being taught in schools.

"I'm here supporting this march because there are so many injustices in this country," Long, 59, said on the eve of Saturday's march. "I'm very concerned about it because I have a 5-year-old grandson and a 13-year-old granddaughter."