Much of civil rights fight remains, area residents say on eve of march anniversary


People file into a bus heading to Washington DC to attend the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's speech and the march on Washington on Friday, August 23, 2013 in Gainesville, Fla.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at 5:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at 5:25 p.m.

A busload of Gainesville locals traveled to and from Washington, D.C., this past weekend to join the festivities commemorating the March on Washington's 50th anniversary, but Pat McCollough stuck around to be part of the actual anniversary march today.

McCollough, a member of the Alachua County Democratic Executive Committee, decided to spend a week in the nation's capital with her husband to take part in all the events surrounding this landmark anniversary.

Now 59, she was just a kid back in 1963 when thousands descended upon D.C. to join the historic march for civil rights, but she remembers being intrigued with the movement even at such a young age.

Fifty years after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial, McCollough is volunteering as a marshal for the anniversary parade today to ensure it remains safe and orderly.

She is in charge of overseeing the other marshals, who are prepared to talk with the city police if any issues arise during the parade. The day's celebration will be punctuated by an address from President Barack Obama in the same place King gave his influential speech so many years ago. "The whole theme is 'let freedom ring,' " McCollough said.

For her, this isn't as much about a celebration of the past as it is about looking to the future and reflecting on the question "Where do we go from here?"

The nation has grown by leaps and bounds since the first March on Washington, she said, but the inequalities its participants opposed so openly haven't been completely eradicated. There is still work to be done, she said.

"We know where we have been. We know what it took to get here. We know we still have a ways to go," she said. "But my thing is, from this point, where do we go from here, and that's why I think I really want to be involved."

Former County Commissioner Rodney Long agreed, emphasizing the importance of realizing there are still battles to be fought.

If King and the others who fought for equality alongside him could hop in a time capsule to the present year, he said, they would see striking resemblances to 1963.

Some fights Americans thought had been resolved years ago thanks to the efforts of King and the civil rights movement of the 1960s must be re-fought, Long said. He pointed to the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act as a prime example. The court ruled against a formula the federal government had used in the past to determine which states and localities need the government's approval for changes to voting procedures before making them.

Long also emphasized the lingering economic inequalities that women and minorities face in terms of jobs and income.

He has coordinated a commemorative program in Gainesville this evening for people who couldn't be in Washington, D.C., but want to celebrate the anniversary here in town. The event will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the MLK Memorial Gardens downtown.

State Rep. Clovis Watson, local NAACP branch president Evelyn Foxx, Long and others will speak about the importance of the anniversary during the event.

Long said he hopes it will remind people of the impact the March on Washington had on the nation as well as the need to continue fighting for equal rights.

"We have to continue to march," he said. "Reflecting is fine. Remembering is great. Acting is what's needed."

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gainesville.com.

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