Security will be tight and city roads will be jammed as the District prepares for the commemoration Wednesday of the March on Washington, which will feature a morning march and afternoon speeches by President Obama and two former presidents.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to converge on the Mall, where 50 years ago the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before one of the largest civil rights rallies in U.S. history.
The “Let Freedom Ring” commemoration is set to begin at 11:30 a.m. and features a lengthy guest list of civil rights leaders and celebrities. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter are scheduled to speak, while actor Hill Harper and broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien are set to host the roughly four-hour event. Other guests include actress and talk show host Oprah Winfrey; actors Jamie Foxx and Forest Whitaker; musicians Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey, who performed with Mary Travers at the original march in 1963; and members of the King family.
The White House announced earlier this month that Mr. Obama would speak at the event, which is organized by the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
He said the goal for the commemoration is to “involve everyone,” and the way the center is attempting to do that is by leading a global bell ringing. 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.”
“This is designed not just for everyone who comes to Washington, but for followers, admirers of Martin Luther King all over world,” Mr. Klein said. “It’s going to be a lovely thing.”
Because of the heightened security on the Mall, National Park Service officials have asked that people attending the event not bring large bags or signs, backpacks, glass containers or coolers. Plastic water bottles and small bags or signs are acceptable. The Park Service also said people will be allowed to bring personal umbrellas, with the National Weather Service saying temperatures are expected to be in the high 80s and the chance of rain is forecast at 30 percent to 50 percent.
Beginning at 3:15 a.m. Wednesday, U.S. Park Police will close the sites closest to the commemoration ceremony, including the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the World War II Memorial and the D.C. War Memorial.
At 4 a.m., police will begin closing roads around the Mall between 17th and 23rd streets, along with some of the major routes Virginia drivers use to enter the District. The Arlington Memorial Bridge, one end of which is situated directly behind the Lincoln Memorial, will be closed along with segments of Rock Creek Parkway and Ohio Drive that run alongside the memorial.
Motorists attempting to access some areas around Maine Avenue and the Southwest waterfront also will find themselves rerouted, while cars near Union Station are likely to see rolling closures as police escort the 50th anniversary march.
The 1.6-mile march, scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on New Jersey Avenue just west of Union Station, will pass sites important to the history of the civil rights movement, with brief rallies at the headquarters of the Department of Labor and the Department of Justice before ending at the Lincoln Memorial.
Anticipating messy traffic conditions, officials with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management on Tuesday told employees the agency “strongly urges the use of telework to keep the Government operating while helping to minimize traffic congestion and unproductive time during this event.”
Metro will operate on a regular weekday rail schedule, opening at 5 a.m., but officials have warned of increased ridership along routes nearest to the Mall.
And with two former presidents and the commander in chief on the schedule, attendees can expect to pass through a security check.