Just as they were announcing plans for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, civil rights leaders learned the Supreme Court had kicked back to a lower court a case challenging the use of race in college admissions.
That and other key cases before the U.S. Supreme Court connected to race and civil rights, the leaders said on June 24, is why the five days of events marking the historic march this August will not simply be a commemoration.
One of the events, Aug. 24, will be a march from the Lincoln Memorial to the King Memorial in Washington and a rally by civil and human rights organizations.
"It is the intent of those that come together to make it clear that this is not just a nostalgia visit, that this is not a commemoration but a continuation and a call to action," said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who head the National Action Network. "We are in a climate that is threatening too much of what was achieved 50 years ago."
The Supreme Court ruled 7-1 that a court should approve the use of race as a factor in admissions only after it concludes "that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity."
In addition to the case challenging University of Texas' admission practices, the court is expected to rule this week on a challenge to Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act protection against discrimination.
The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom drew hundreds of thousands of people from around the country to the National Mall to protest segregation and other discriminatory laws. It also was intended to bring attention to the joblessness and economic condition of African Americans.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech at the Aug. 28, 1963, rally that also was intended to pressure then President John F. Kennedy to move a federal civil rights bill through Congress.
"We have not achieved that dream," Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of King, said at the news conference.
Sharpton pointed out that black women were not highly visible in the 1963 march and rally. Entertainer Josephine Baker spoke and gospel legend Mahalia Jackson sang.
He said women would play a much larger role in this year's event. Also, gay and lesbian leaders will be speaking, which did not occur at the 1963 march, he said.
"In many ways, we show how far even the civil rights community had to rise, from misogyny and other things and we continue to grow, praying we continue to get better and not bitter," Sharpton said.
He said Bernice King, of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, is organizing the activities surrounding the five-day anniversary celebration beyond the march. Bernice King said the activities will include a festival, a children's tribute and a bell ringing.
On the Web…
National Action Network: HTTP://NATIONALACTIONNETWORK.NET/
The King Center: HTTP://WWW.THEKINGCENTER.ORG/