Thousands march in memory of Martin Luther King’s dream
‘The journey is not complete. We can and we must do more’
The Rev Al Sharpton (second right) links arms with Georgia Democratic representative John Lewis next to Martin Luther King III (right) as they begin to march. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Tens of thousands of people marched to the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington yesterday commemorating the 50th anniversary of his “I Have a Dream” speech.
The event was a tribute to a generation of activists that endured fire hoses, police abuses and indignities to demand equality for African Americans.
But there was a strong theme of unfinished business, with speakers lamenting what they see as new attacks on civil rights.
“This is not the time for nostalgic commemoration,” said Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of the murdered civil rights leader. “Nor is this the time for self-congratulatory celebration. The task is not done. The journey is not complete. We can and we must do more.”
The gathering was the precursor to the actual anniversary on Wednesday of the 1963 March on Washington, which ushered in the idea of massive, non-violent demonstrations and helped bring about the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
First African-American AG
Yesterday, Eric Holder, the first African American attorney general, thanked those who marched a half-century earlier. He said he would not be in office, nor would Mr Obama be president, without them.
“They marched in spite of animosity, oppression and brutality because they believed in the greatness of what this nation could become and despaired of the founding promises not kept,” said Mr Holder.
He said the spirit of the 1963 march now demanded equality for gays, Latinos, women, the disabled and others.
Congressman John Lewis, the only surviving speaker from the 1963 march, attacked a recent supreme court decision that effectively erased a key anti-discrimination provision of the Voting Rights Act, whose enactment in 1965 marked a major turning point in the struggle of black Americans for equality.
Mr Lewis, of Georgia, was a leader of a 1965 march, where police beat and gassed marchers who demanded access to voting booths.
“I am not going to stand by and let the supreme court take the right to vote away from us,” he said. “You cannot stand by. You cannot sit down. You’ve got to stand up. Speak up, speak out and get in the way.”
Other activists cited persistent unemployment among African Americans, which is about double that of white Americans, and the Florida shooting to death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman.
“It’s very difficult to stomach the fact that Trayvon wasn’t committing any crime. He was on his way home from the store,” said Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, as she prepared to participate in the march.
“Don’t wait until something happens to your child . . . This is the time to act now.”