On August 28, 2013, thousands of people poured onto the Washington Mall to hear a long list of prominent speakers. Rainbows of umbrellas covered the space as the crowd lifted them against the sporadic uncorking of the clouds. No amount of rain would keep these people home; they were witnessing history.
By Marie Loiseau and Audrey Arnal.
Intense comradery reigned at this gathering marking the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, the Civil Rights Movement in which Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. The crowd was huge and immensely diverse. All gathered around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool to listen to over twenty speakers and performers demand equality for all humans.
Liberation and equality for all persons – that was the main message. There was emphasis on racial equality, of course, as speakers remembered and quoted Dr. King’s dream; however, all variations of humans were represented. Dr. Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), as well as Fred Maahs, the Chair of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), spoke out about equality for all.
“For many millions of people with disabilities, the American dream remains out of reach,” said Maahs. “We have seen a lot of progress, but, like all civil rights movements, the disability rights movement has much more to do.”
In addition to the speakers, there were multiple musical performances scattered throughout the event, including jazz by Reverend Shirley Caesar, pop by Identity4Pop, blues by Marvin and Carvin Winans, and “Amazing Grace” by LeAnn Rimes. The unity among the crowd grew to the music. People were holding hands; they were swaying, belting lyrics along with those on stage. One could hear frequents shouts of “Amen!” erupting from somewhere close. As Rimes performed “Amazing Grace,” her voice ringing out over everyone present, individuals could feel the truth in Senator John Lewis’ words: “We are one people. We are one family. We are one house. We all live in the same house.”
Other speakers included Jamie Foxx, Oprah Winfrey, Reverend Bernice King, Martin Luther King the 3rd, former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and President Barack Obama.
In impassioned speeches, Presidents Carter and Clinton pointed out America’s unfinished work and Clinton asked everyone within the country to keep fighting against racism and prejudices, saying: “It is time to stop complaining and put our shoulders against the stubborn gates holding the American people back.”
The former Presidents were joined on the steps by Dr King’s family: his sister Christine King Farris, his son Martin Luther King the Third, his daughter Reverend Bernice King who may have given one of the most strongest speech of the afternoon, and his closest friend Georgia Rep. John Lewis, the last living speaker of the 1963 March on Washington.
At 3 p.m., the exact time Dr. King delivered his poignant speech fifty years ago, his family rang a bell from Birmingham, Alabama, where four young Black girls were killed in 1963; bells from churches all over the United States started ringing, commemorating this hopeful moment.
After Rep. Lewis’ emotional speech, President Obama joined him on stage, and the crowd started holding its breath.
President Obama urged everyone to keep fighting for equality and harmony within the United States. A half-century to the day Dr. King called for justice, the first African American President paid tribute to his legacy to the African American community as well as to other minorities, but added that economic justice has still some way to go before America looks like the equal country Martin Luther King Jr. dreamt of. The unemployment rate African Americans and Latinos face remains too high, wealth disparities between minorities seem unchanging, and a real progress has to be made. The dream is still far from realized but there is no place for complaining or giving up.
The President called for a change, a change that can only appear if everyone works together, hand in hand, towards a common aim. America needs courage and President Obama knows his country have the means to keep fighting for its rights. “America, I know the road will be long, but I know we can get there. Yes, we will stumble, but I know we’ll get back up,” he said facing a hopeful, passionate and lively crowd.
At the Lincoln Memorial, everyone was sure of something – they will keep marching and they won’t give up, they will break those doors that prevent them to live in a fair country, they will have the courage to make a change and to create the harmonious and equal America they dream of.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS EVENT AND PLACE IN THE CITY
Since its founding on July 16, 1790, Washington DC has been home to the most significant historic events of the United States of America. Discovering the nation’s capital means understanding years of American history. A symbol of justice, progress and hope, Washington DC has always been seen as one of the most powerful politic cities in the world. This is where global policy is shaped and where national and international decisions are made every day.
The federal capital has always had a significant meaning for the African American community. The American Civil Rights Movement flowered here, and the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom echoes in every mind around the city as a symbol of hope and equality for all the African American people.
On August 28, 1963, more than 250,000 people marched to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to hear Dr. Martin Luther King deliver his powerful and impassioned “I Have a Dream” speech about equality, harmony and freedom.
Exactly five decades after, more than 20,000 people marched from Capitol Hill to the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
The Memorial has become, over the last decades, a symbolic venue for the Civil Rights Movement. Surrounded on three sides by water, the monument remains in every mind as the symbol of justice and progress. On the eighteen steps of the Memorial, below Lincoln’s incredible statue, is engraved an inscription commemorating Dr. King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech.
Washington DC is the federal capital of the most powerful country in the world. There is no other place like this city, and there is always something new to discover. However, is there a better way to soak up the atmosphere of Washington than attending a political and historic event? Taking part of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom happens only once in a lifetime and everyone at the Lincoln Memorial knew that. This hopeful and impassioned commemoration will forever be etched in the participants’ memories, and each will continue to move forward to make this country a better place. On August 28, 2013, Washington DC shared a message of hope, harmony, courage and justice, and we were there to witness it.