Tens of thousands of people descended on the National Mall on Saturday to rally for a litany of civil rights issues in an event organizers billed as a continuation of the March on Washington 50 years ago.
The four-hour rally featured dozens of civil rights and labor leaders on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial addressing a crowd that stretched to the World War II Memorial.
Speakers included Rep. John Lewis, Georgia Democrat who spoke at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in which Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.
House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Martin Luther King III and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in their remarks honored the legacy of those who staged the original march.
“But for them, I would not be attorney general of the United States and Barack Obama would not be president of the United States of America,” he said.
The rally culminated in a speech by the Rev. Al Sharpton, whose National Action Network organized Saturday’s march. Mr. Sharpton’s address, calling for a “new America,” drew the most enthusiastic response of the day.
“We see a new America. We see an America of equality, of justice, of fairness,” he said. “We march because we’re gonna bring a new America. One nation, under god, indivisible, with liberty and justice — not for some, not for who you choose, not for who you like, but for all.”
For the most part, speakers were kept to a strict two-minute limit, with even the Rev. Jesse Jackson cut off when he exceeded his allotted time.
At the podium and in the crowd, participants took on a wide variety of civil rights-related issues — jobs, immigration reform, environmental justice and the civil rights of workers, voters, women and gays.
Some held photos taken during the original march 50 years ago. The two most popular images on T-shirts were those of King and of Trayvon Martin.
Several speakers mentioned the slaying of the Florida teenager whose killer was acquitted after arguing he acted in self-defense. The speakers called for the repeal of “stand your ground” laws that allow a person to fight back with force when it is impossible to get away.
Martin’s parents attended the rally, and several people could be seen wearing hoodies similar to the one the teen was wearing when he was killed or T-shirts that said, “We are all Trayvon.”
Kevin Moore, 47, said he came with about 60 people from Columbus, Ohio, to urge unity in Congress.
“I figure we come out and unite and show we’re serious,” he said. “There’s gonna be change.”
Mr. Moore said he was holding a sign, made by the NAACP, supporting a package of legislative reforms proposed as a result of Martin’s killing because the incident “hit close to home.”
“It could have been our child,” he said.
By 9:45 a.m. the grounds between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument were teeming with people, some sitting on blankets and others in folding chairs.
Cheryl Reed, of Columbia, Md., said she was both hoping and expecting a large crowd.
“I was hoping especially for young people to witness history in the making,” she said. “They have to learn, even if they’re not in the classroom, about people like Martin Luther King and others with him.
Bobby Henry, 55, was a child when he attended the original march, sitting on his father’s shoulders.
“I was here for the 25th anniversary and now I wanted to be here for the 50th,” the Prince George’s County man said. “There’s a lot of work to be done. Dr. King’s dream has still not been realized. We still owe it to those who stood and struggled and marched.”
The rally ended with a march along Independence Avenue past the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial toward the Washington Monument. Organizers urged patience as they coordinated the movement of the large crowd.
Beneath a glittery red, white as blue baseball cap, Helen Hampton maintained a serious face as she considered the rally.
“I thought it was good but it needed to be a bit more organized,” the Philadelphia resident said.
Metro reported that as of 11 a.m. ridership was at 108,400 trips − well over double last week’s figures. Tour buses were still making their way to the Mall well after the speeches began.
Police reported a minor accident involving three tour buses at around 7:30 a.m. The buses collided near the 1300 block of Connecticut Avenue NW, and seven people were transported to hospitals with minor injuries. They were all believed to be passengers on the buses.