Thousands gather on anniversary of Martin Luther King’s speech

Families of George Floyd and Jacob Blake call for racial justice

Tens of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington on Friday to call for racial justice, as they marked the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous march on the US capital.

The families of George Floyd, whose death at the hands of a white police officer sparked worldwide protests, and Jacob Blake, the 29-year-old African-American man who was shot in the back seven times by a police officer last Sunday, were among those who addressed the crowd.

“I wish George was here to see this right now,” said Philonese Floyd, the brother of Mr Floyd in an emotional speech.

“Change is happening right now because we demand it. Everyone here has made a commitment... It’s hot, and I know it’s hot, but we’re here,” he said. “Our leaders – they need to follow us.”


The father of Jacob Blake, who was paralysed by the shooting, hit out at "systemic racism" in the United States. "There are two systems of justice in the United States. There's a white system and there's a black system," said Jacob Blake snr.

"The black system ain't doing so well. But we're going to stand up. Every black person in the United States is going to stand up. I'm tired of looking at cameras and see these black and brown people suffer," he said, noting that his own father had been in attendance at the Martin Luther King march in 1963.

Leading figures from the Civil Rights movement, including Martin Luther King III, the son of the civil rights leader, also spoke at the event, which was organised in the wake of Mr Floyd’s death in May.

Contributors spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial – where Mr King delivered his I Have a Dream speech in 1963. They then led a march through the city, first making their way to the Martin Luther King memorial on the banks of the Potomac River.


Thousands of people defied the heat and humidity to travel to the event, which was held with coronavirus measures in place, including the mandatory wearing of masks. Attendees were given temperature tests before entering the open air space.

Among those attending were Keena LaMar and her boyfriend – they had made a three-hour journey by car from southwest Virginia to the US capital. Wearing a mask, she said she was conscious of the risk of coronavirus, “but this is about something so much bigger”, she said, holding a Black Lives Matter banner.

The issue of racial injustice has resurfaced as a highly contentious issue in the United States this week following the shooting of Mr Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last weekend. This prompted several nights of violence and unrest in the same city, resulting in the fatal shooting of two men on Tuesday.

Kyle Rittenhouse (17), who has been charged with the shootings, is being held in nearby Illinois. His next court appearance was set for September 25th at a short hearing on Friday.

In a separate development on Friday, president Donald Trump granted a full pardon to Alice Johnson, the African-American woman whose jail sentence he commuted last year, at an event in the Oval Office following her appearance at the Republican National Convention on Thursday.

In his convention speech, Mr Trump said he had done more for African-Americans than any other president since Abraham Lincoln, but he also firmly threw his support behind law enforcement officers in the country.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent