WASHINGTON, DC—Civil rights leaders and Americans of all stripes turned out today for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington event at the Lincoln Memorial. The celebration was a culmination of activities, from Aug. 21-28, calling for “jobs, justice and freedom.”
Three presidents and the daughters of two more participated in the program on the steps of the grand memorial where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech. Singer Natalie Grant took the crowd to church and the remarks of President Carter, Jamie Foxx Bernice King and Christine King Farris, Martin Luther King’s older sister, were particularly moving and relevant.
A long list of notables spoke including representatives of the major civil rights organizations, union workers, teachers, women, children, people with disabilities, immigrants, farm workers, black elected officials and the LGBT community, before the headliners—Carter, President Clinton, Martin Luther King III, Caroline Kennedy, Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, Oprah Winfrey, and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who as a SNCC leader was the youngest speaker at the first march on Aug. 28, 1963. The address of President Obama, who attended with First Lady Michelle Obama, closed the ceremony.
Despite light, periodic rain showers all afternoon, crowds flowed beyond the monument, flanking the Reflecting Pool. Many donned t-shirts commemorating the original march and King’s “Dream” speech, boasting support for President Obama, and making statements about the need for U.S. jobs and democracy in the District of Columbia, among other issues. A few artful signs honoring Medgar Evers and referencing Trayvon Martin were also sighted.
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“I Am a Man,” signs were carried by Memphis sanitation workers striking in 1968. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the demonstrators and was assassinated the next day. More recently, contemporary artists Glenn Ligon and Hank Willis Thomas have referenced the signs in their work.