Fifty years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired the nation from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with his “I Have a Dream” speech, the District hosts a series of events this week commemorating the historic day for civil rights.
From Monday through Wednesday, conferences, celebrations and marches are planned in honor of King and the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The events follow a gospel brunch held Sunday at the Willard InterContinental Hotel where King finished writing his famous speech and a massive rally on the Mall on Saturday that drew tens of thousands of participants.
President Obama will lead the 50th anniversary commemoration Wednesday, the actual anniversary of the march, during the “Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action.” Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter are also set to speak at the event, sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
The commemoration is the conclusion of a series of anniversary events to honor the 1963 march, when an estimated 200,000 people converged on the Mall to rally for justice and jobs.
Prior to Mr. Obama’s speech Wednesday, a 1.6 mile march is scheduled to step off at about 9 a.m. with marchers passing 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.
The march is being organized by Van White, a Rochester, N.Y., attorney and founder of the Center for the Study of Civil and Human Rights Laws.
A march on Saturday, organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and billed as a continuation of the original March on Washington, 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.
The march began after a four-hour rally that included speeches from Rep. John Lewis, Georgia Democrat, who spoke at the 1963 march; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat; Martin Luther King III and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
Bobby Henry, 55, was a child sitting on his father’s shoulders when he attended the original march 50 years ago and was back on the Mall on Saturday.
“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.”
D.C. resident Sandra Schmidt was only 3 years old at the time of the march, but she said she still has a vague memory of asking her father that day why so many people were in the city.
As she crossed over the water along Independence Avenue on Saturday, Ms. Schmidt said it seemed as if a lot of people with a variety of messages were part of the parade.
“Just to see all the things going on for people,” the 53-year-old said. “I think if everyone has a message, it means we’re all kind of moving in the right direction.”