A Day of Speeches to Spark a Life of Change
By Essence Wiley
Howard University News Service
Thousands crowded at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday in honor of the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech. The honorary march was put together by the King family’s Drum Major Institute in collaboration with the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.
Singer and actress Melba Moore kicked off the day with a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Black national anthem. Speeches followed from a diverse roster of community leaders, pastors, rabbis, celebrities and presidents of women’s groups, unions and other organizations.
The early start and glaring sun didn’t stop marchers from showing up and out. Church delegations, families, Civil Rights groups, sororities and fraternities convened in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
Showing Up for Change
Jazzmin Williams, a Baltimore native, drove to Washington in the wee hours of the morning for the march.
“Just to show up in person for the change that needs to be made and also to show up as a form of resistance is what helps us combat white supremacists,” said Williams as she lay sprawled on a blanket with her niece. Williams says it’s important to expose children to the sometimes harsh realities of the world.
“It’s important because even though she may not recollect what’s going on, she’s aware enough to realize like something’s happening,” she added. “She may not know the movement is going on or like ‘the continuation’ of this conversation, but she can feel it. We can feel it from our ancestors.”
Similar to the original march on Aug. 28, 1963, thousands of people of all ages filled both sides of the lawn spanning to the back of the pool. For this anniversary, it seemed as though each person was marching for a different reason.
“I think that everyone having their own cause and willing to come together to move them forward is amazing,” said Morgan O’Brien, a Connecticut historian. “It’s about time in this country.”
O’Brien traveled with over 600 handmade bracelets that symbolize what unity means to her, from women’s rights to gun safety. “I did as many as the alphabet would allow me to do, and I just started making as many bracelets in as many color combinations because I figured since it’s all about unity.”
Several notable speakers took to the podium to honor the continuation of the March on Washington.
Janeese Lewis George, D.C. Council member in Ward 4, used her platform to call for statehood. ”As I stand here before you today, the 700,000 residents of the District of Columbia continue to be denied full representation and self-government,” she said.
Gun violence, housing, voting rights, abortion and unemployment were other pressing issues that came up in speeches throughout the morning.
“We don’t want diversity, equity and inclusion,” said the Rev. Charles E. Williams II, the chair of Sharpton’s National Action Network. “We want our neighborhoods revitalized. What we want is our votes counted. What we want is accountable, competent police in our neighborhoods. What we want is fair access to economic opportunity and contracts.”
“And if we don’t get it, we gon’ grab our folding chair and continue to beat down poverty, inequity and injustice,” Williams said, referring to the chair that a man used by defend an attack against a riverboat cruise captain in Montgomery, Alabama.
In true preacher fashion, Williams’ remarks seemed to reinvigorate marchers who whistled, clapped and rose to their feet as the sun continued to blare.
Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg, Civil Rights leader Andrew Young, actor Nick Cannon and the Rev. Jamal Bryant of Georgia were also among the speakers.
“When we look at the past 60 years, we have to do measurement as to how far we have come,” Bryant said. “This weekend in Fulton County where [former President Donald Trump] says that he weighs 215 pounds, it became evident that America doesn’t know how heavy the burden has been for us to handle oppression in this system.”
Awaiting Headliners in the Heat
Though slated to take the stage at 11 a.m., the audience didn’t hear from keynote speakers Martin Luther King III, Yolanda King, Arndrea Waters King and Sharpton until closer to 2:30 p.m.
“It’s been a long hot day and an even longer hot summer,” said Waters King, president of the Drum Major Institute and wife of MLK III. “We are here to liberate the soul of the nation, the soul of democracy from those forces who would all have us go backward and perish rather than forward as sisters and brothers.”
Waters King addressed the looming question of why people are marching 60 years later head-on: “This is about freedom. This is about peace. This is about our children. We are not here for commemoration. We are here for rededication to the fight for a future where at long last America’s practice will be as good as its promise.”
Yolanda King, the granddaughter of the late King, followed her mother.
“If I could speak to my grandpa today, I’d say ‘I’m sorry we still have to be here to rededicate ourselves to your work and to ultimately realize your hidden dream,’” the 15-year-old said.
King III continued the theme about his father. “Dad would probably say now is the time,” he said. “We’re not personifying greatness right now. But you know what? Dad and Mom taught us it takes a few great women and men to bring about change.”
Sharpton closed the program before marchers took to the streets.
“Today was a day to show our strength,” said the 68-year-old. “Sixty years ago, Martin Luther King talked about a dream. Sixty years later, we’re the dreamers. The problem is we’re facing the schemers.”
Sharpton addressed recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to overturn affirmative action and abortion rights as well as the indictment of former President Trump and his camp’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election.
“The dreamers will win,” Sharpton said. “The dreamers will march. Black, white, Jewish, LGBTQ, we are the dreamers. We are the children of the dream. Let us march in the name of the dreamers. Let’s stand up together arm in arm.”
Still Marching for Justice
Despite the heat peaking at 90 degrees and several people passing out, marchers took to the streets around 3 p.m. The King family and Sharpton led people down 23rd Street to West Potomac Park where everyone convened for a final time.
The crowd reflected all religions, ages, sexualities and origins. Along the way, they responded to call-and-response chants:
“Show me what democracy looks like.”
“This is what democracy looks like!”
“What do we want?”
When do we want it?
Saturday left some optimistic about the journey to change.
“I really appreciate the people who were out here like the folks who are Jewish, folks who are outside of the black community, folks who are allies, because we need them even more because their voices are going to push the conversation forward,” Williams said.
Shortly after the march, a racially motivated shooting in Jacksonville, Florida, left three dead in a Dollar General store.
“It is a reminder that the hate-fueled violence that Dr. King called out 60 years ago and that we condemned today from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, aren’t antiquated concerns,” Sharpton said in a statement, “but remain a clear and present danger that threatens us all.”
Essence Wiley is a reporter for HUNewsService.com and editor-in-chief of Cover 2 Cover magazine at Howard University.