A march promoted by Al Sharpton's National Action Network that is set to step off from the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday is billed as part of the official recognition of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
It comes days before separate events scheduled for Wednesday, the actual anniversary, that feature a morning march and an afternoon commemoration ceremony highlighted by a speech from President Obama.
Organizers say they complement each other, but the several days worth of events are distinct in tone and aimed at different audiences.
The Sharpton-led group has projected 100,000 people will attend its march, which is activist in nature and scheduled to feature the parents of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, Martin Luther King III, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the family of Emmett Till, a black Chicago teenager lynched for whistling at a white woman in 1955.
The march is expected to address a wide variety of issues — jobs, immigration reform, environmental justice and the civil rights of workers, voters, women and gays. Organizers describe it as a continuation of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, in which 200,000 people converged on the Mall.
"You have to remember that 1963 was a moment in history when the nation came together in an activist fashion to demand change," said Michael Hardy, the network's executive vice president.
Events on Wednesday — the anniversary of the day the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech — will include a morning march organized by a Rochester, N.Y., lawyer and an afternoon ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial, in which Mr. Obama and former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter are scheduled to speak.
The event at which Mr. Obama will speak, the "Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action," is an 11:30 a.m. event sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change with the goal of "involving everyone" in the anniversary celebration, officials said.
Steve Klein, a spokesman for the King Center, said at 3 p.m. bells will ring at the Lincoln Memorial and churches around the city. They will be joined by ringing bells at hundreds of other locations across the country and around the world in honor of King's call to "let freedom ring" from his "I Have a Dream" speech.
"This is how we wanted to involve everyone," Mr. Klein said. "It's a simple thing, but people have organized some really interesting programs. It's designed not just for people who come to Washington. It's a way to involve followers and admirers of Martin Luther King all over the world."
Mr. Hardy pointed out the differences with the march scheduled for Saturday.
"Saturday represents that burning activism that still demands justice now. Wednesday represents the cumulative efforts of our history to celebrate where we were and where we are now," Mr. Hardy said.
Van White organized a 1.6-mile march slated for 9 a.m. Wednesday that passes sites relevant to the civil rights movement, such as the headquarters of the Department of Justice and the Department of Labor as well as the federal courthouse in the District, before a rally at the Lincoln Memorial.
He said there was "really no substantive conflict" between the events.
"They're different dates. One's scheduled on the 24th, I believe, to accommodate people's work schedules. The other is the 28th, for the purists, people who want to celebrate the date on the actual anniversary," said Mr. White, founder of the Center for the Study of Civil and Human Rights Laws.
Online commenters have expressed confusion about the "official" rallies.
The National Action Network characterizes its National Action to Realize the Dream March on Saturday as among the "official schedule of events being hosted by the King Family [and] four of the remaining organizations who executed the 1963 March."
While providing a link on its website to the event at which Mr. Obama will speak, the National Action Network points out that the Wednesday morning march is being hosted by a private citizen and "is not part of the official events."
Mr. White said he began work last year to obtain his permits for Wednesday's march, which is expected to be far smaller than the Saturday event. He said it was "only natural for there to be a number of organizations commemorating this great event at different venues at different times."
Mr. White provides information about the event at which Mr. Obama will speak on his website, 50thanniversarymarchonwashington.com, and encourages people to attend both marches if possible.
Former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League, said Wednesday's events are a commemoration of what happened in 1963, but Saturday's event was the most important part of the week.
"It focuses on people in the spirit of 1963, showing up in large numbers and a mass protest utilizing the right to peaceably assemble around important issues," he said. "There's a practical side of this. The actual commemorative event is on Wednesday, but in order to make mass mobilization, it had to be on a weekend. Not everybody can take off and travel."
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