The alarm went off at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday and I groaned because I had a sinus headache. I hit the snooze button, but when it went off five minutes later, I jumped up because the day was an important day.
People from all over the country were in Washington to participate in the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for jobs, peace and freedom, which was led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A headache was not going to keep me from attending this historic celebration on the National Mall.
I was not around for the 1963 march, but my sister, Teresa, and I marched in the 20th anniversary celebration. In trying to get friends to join us on Saturday, she reminded them that she and I saw the importance of marching in 1983 at a time when we were both in intense graduate school programs, and struggling financially.
I was actually surprised that a lot of people I know did not attend the anniversary march, but thankfully tens of thousands of people of all ages and races showed up from around the country, with the crowd stretching from the speakers' staging at the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument. I had friends in town from Atlanta and Los Angeles. One local attorney friend, Theo Brown, marched with the National Bar Association, holding a sign calling for justice for all.
In looking back to the 1983 march, this one seemed to have more diverse groups of people carrying signs or wearing T-shirts for numerous causes. There were D.C. statehood supporters, labor union members, those demanding justice for slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and others calling for an end to racial profiling and stand-your-ground laws, which a Maryland legislator is pushing to have enacted in the state, and an end to restrictions on voting rights. The speakers, whose voices boomed around the Reflecting Pool, mirrored that diversity.
They reminded the crowd that the 1963 march led to landmark legislation being passed in Congress, such as the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This important act, said U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who spoke at the march in 1963, is being threatened.
"I gave blood on a bridge in Selma, Alabama, and I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the [voting] right away from us," Lewis said to thunderous applause.
March organizer and activist the Rev. Al Sharpton sharply criticized state officials who spearheaded stricter ID requirements for voters during elections.
"We had IDs when we voted for Johnson, Nixon, both Bushes, so why did we need special ID when it came to voting for Obama?" Sharpton asked to deafening cheers. "We're not asleep," he added, to which an elderly woman in the crowd quickly shouted, "I'm wide awake. You can't take our vote from us."
Many said the day was not just about celebrating the 50th anniversary, but electrifying the country's youth to become more involved and sparking a new energy for fixing problems that still exist 50 years later.
In their efforts to reenergize people, the speakers didn't just talk about Dr. King's unfulfilled 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech, but they talked about plans of action.
The Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian, one of Dr. King's top lieutenants who marched in 1963 and will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom this year, told the crowd, "We're here again after a half century, to remind us … what are we going to do when we go home, what are we going to organize around, what problems are we going to solve."
I thought about that as the speeches ended, and we walked from the Lincoln Memorial to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and across the bridge to the Washington Monument — a reversal of the route taken by the 1963 march. I was surrounded by chanting members of church, sorority, fraternity, union and political groups who, Vivian said, are already organized and positioned to start working on the many political, economic, social, legal and civil rights issues.
Let’s hope that happens, so that 10 years from now the march won’t be about the same frustrating problems, and Dr. King’s dream won’t be still just a dream.
This story has been updated.