Marching again: Civil rights activists returning to rally in D.C.

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

When they announced the 2013 March on Washington, organizers planned a commemorative event marking the 50th anniversary of the historic demonstration that climaxed with Martin Luther King Jr.’s “dream” speech.

But the same week in June that activists debuted preliminary plans for this month’s actions, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the summer’s celebratory events took on greater urgency. The Great March on Washington in 1963 fueled passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that now needs saving.

“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 of the National Action Network.

One march – organized by NAN in partnership with the King Center and the groups behind the ’63 march – is set for Aug. 24. Another march takes place on Aug. 28, 50 years to the day of the 1963 march, and, according to organizers, will conclude with President Barack Obama speaking from the Lincoln Memorial.

Now, as was the case 50 years ago, the marches are about jobs, justice and freedom.

The Aug. 24 event begins at 8 a.m. EDT with a rally at the Lincoln Memorial and then the march to the King Memorial.

The Aug. 28 march will assemble at about 8 a.m. EDT at 600 New Jersey Ave., with participants from the 1963 event at the front of the procession. The march begins at 9:30 a.m., with a stop at the U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Ave., another stop at the U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Ave., and then a walk to the National Mall. There, organizers plan a number of speeches, including one by the president.

Organizers have chartered buses, booked seats on trains and planes and established carpooling communities, as well as set up networks for marchers to find a bed or a couch for an overnight in D.C.

“Midwest activists are still organizing for the trip,” said Chicago civil rights activist Claire Ruehlmann. “But I think we’ll see thousands headed east from the Lake Michigan states. We’re starting to hear from people who marched in 1963, some who were in their early 20s then, and some who were just kids.”

Civil rights veteran and longtime King associate Bayard Rustin, who was openly gay, coordinated logistics for the 1963 march. The demonstrators arrived by the hundreds of thousands – there were 21 chartered trains, 2,000 buses and 10 chartered airlines – to walk from the Washington Memorial to the Lincoln Memorial. There, gathered around the reflecting pool at the base of the Lincoln Memorial, they heard from King, Rustin, Josephine Baker, labor leader Walter Reuther, CORE chairman Floyd McKissick, A. Phillip Randolph, Eugene Carson Blake, National Urban League director Whitney Young, NAACP leader Roy Wilkins and now-Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who was a young activist at the time.

King’s speech, carried live on television, is the best-remembered of the event and is universally hailed as one of the greatest speeches in history.

“I have a dream, that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” King said. “I have a dream today.”

Lewis’ speech proved the most controversial, partly for what he was not allowed to say. The speech was edited to exclude criticism of the Kennedy administration and a fiery call to nonviolent revolution: “We will march through the South, through the heart of Dixie, the way Sherman did. We shall pursue our own scorched earth policy and burn Jim Crow to the ground – nonviolently.”

On Aug. 24, Lewis again will address marchers, as will House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, the family of Trayvon Martin, the family of Emmett Till, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten and National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel, labor leaders Lee Saunders and Mary Kay Henry, and Janet Murgula of the National Council of LaRAZA.

Martin Luther King III, King’s eldest son, plans to climb the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to speak.

Earlier this summer, he said many Americans who have faced a history of exclusion – people of color, women, workers, immigrants, LGBT citizens – still disproportionately face poverty, unemployment, underemployment, inadequate health care, voter suppression and discrimination.

Sharpton said, “We are in a climate that is threatening too much of what was achieved 50 years ago.”

The marches take place during Congress’ summer recess, with lawmakers due back to D.C. on Sept 9.

Then, said Lewis, hearings will resume on restoring the “heart and soul” of the Voting Rights Act.

In the capital: On Aug. 28, citizens from across the country will converge on the nation’s capital to commemorate the historic March On Washington that occurred on Aug. 28, 1963. Also, on Aug. 24, citizens from across the country will gather for the 50th anniversary March on Washington National Action to Realize the Dream.

In Milwaukee: From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on  Aug. 24, Milwaukee will stage a commemorative march beginning at the MLK statue on Martin Luther King Drive. For more information, phone Tracey Dent at 414-502-7296 or James Ferguson at 414-264-6888.