Organizers commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington say they expect the case of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin to figure prominently in their events, but they insist the controversy won't overshadow the tribute to a milestone in the civil rights movement.
Celebrations this month will honor the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, in which more than 200,000 people converged on the Mall to rally for civil rights on Aug. 28, 1963. One of the largest political demonstrations in U.S. history, the march stretched from the Washington Monument to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech.
Its anniversary comes weeks after a series of rallies across the country calling for justice for Trayvon, the black Florida teenager fatally shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. A jury last month acquitted Mr. Zimmerman of second-degree murder, sparking outrage and calls for federal civil rights charges to be filed in the case.
Van White, an organizer of this month's march, said the landmark event could be a place to highlight the important social issues that have emerged since Trayvon's killing. But, he said, the message must be conveyed in a constructive manner that can speak to future generations.
"If this [march] ends with just showing our frustration — we're all carrying Skittles bags and wearing hoodies — if that's where it ends, then Trayvon Martin would have died in vain," said Mr. White, a lawyer and founder of the Center for the Study of Civil and Human Rights Laws. "If we don't create through this an opportunity, they will not remember this march if it's just about Trayvon."
The National Action Network, a group founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton that organized Trayvon-inspired rallies in major cities last month, has invited Trayvon's parents to an Aug. 24 event at the Lincoln Memorial. Martin Luther King III, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and the family of Emmett Till, a black Chicago teenager lynched for whistling at a white woman in 1955, were expected to join the Martin family at the event. President Obama is scheduled to speak at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28.
Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC and part of a task force organizing events for the anniversary of the march, said he was aware of a growing interest from human rights groups in attending the commemoration, prompted by Mr. Zimmerman's acquittal.
"I cannot say for a fact that because of the verdict it will increase numbers, but I will say it has the conversation in a lot of organizations that deal with human rights," Mr. Ferguson said.
Lennox Abrigo, president of the D.C. chapter of the National Action Network, said a variety of groups with their individual concerns are likely to show up during the events, but organizers will insist on a focused message.
"What we're doing is making a common issue: human rights and civil rights," Mr. Abrigo said Wednesday during an event at the at the African American Civil War Memorial announcing plans for the march. "We're not discouraging individual groups from putting their individual mark, but from the [main] stage, human rights and civil rights are the central issues."
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said he was not worried about Trayvon Martin supporters usurping the message of the anniversary, because "there were multiple messages in 1963."
"The fundamental issues were justice and equality," said Mr. Gray, who is using the rally to champion D.C. statehood. "Those continue to be issues 50 years later; they may just have a variety of manifestations."
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