The March at 50

Washington remembers Dr. King's dream


Three women who attended previous “March on Washington” events, from left, Armanda Hawkins of Memphis, Vera Moore of Washington, and Betty Waller Gray of Richmond, Va., holding sign, listen to the speakers. (The Associated Press)

Published: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 at 3:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 at 3:55 p.m.

Taking stock of progress both made and still to come, Americans of all backgrounds and colors massed on the National Mall on Wednesday to hear President Barack Obama and civil rights pioneers commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech on the same spot where he gave unforgettable voice to the struggle for racial equality 50 years earlier.

It was a moment rich with history and symbolism: The first black president poised to stand where King first sketched his dream.

Marchers opened the drizzly day by walking the streets of Washington behind a replica of the transit bus that Rosa Parks once rode when she refused to give up her seat to a white man. Midafternoon, the same bell was to ring that once hung in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., before the church was bombed in 1963.

Former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were part of the lineup, too, with George W. Bush sending a statement of support.

Setting a festive tone for the day, civil rights veteran Andrew Young, a former U.N. ambassador and congressman, veteran, sang an anthem of the civil rights movement and urged the crowd to join in as he belted out: "I woke up this morning with my mind on freedom." He ended his remarks by urging the crowd to "fight on."

The Rev. Bernice King opened the celebration of her father's famous "I Have a Dream" speech with an interfaith service in Washington.

King said that her father, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., is remembered as a freedom fighter for equal rights and human rights. But she said he was most importantly a man of faith.

King's eldest son, Martin Luther King III, said blacks can rightfully celebrate his father's life and work, and the election of the first black president, but much more work remains. Even now, he said on NBC's "Today" show, drawing on his father's words, "many young people, it seems, are first judged by their color and then the content of their character."

Also joining the day's events were Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, daughter of Lyndon Johnson, the president who signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a longtime leader in civil rights battles.

Obama considers the 1963 march a "seminal event" and part of his generation's "formative memory." A half-century after the march, he said, is a good time to reflect on how far the country has come and how far it still has to go.

In an interview Tuesday on Tom Joyner's radio show, Obama said he imagines that King "would be amazed in many ways about the progress that we've made." He listed advances such as equal rights before the law, an accessible judicial system and thousands of African-American elected officials.

But Obama noted that King's speech was also about jobs and justice.

"When it comes to the economy, when it comes to inequality, when it comes to wealth, when it comes to the challenges that inner cities experience, he would say that we have not made as much progress as the civil and social progress that we've made, and that it's not enough just to have a black president, it's not enough just to have a black syndicated radio show host," the president said.

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