Galvanizing for 50th anniversary of March on Washington

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Civil rights, labor, faith-based and community groups are mobilizing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of one of the most significant moments in U.S. history—the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. This year's march will take place Aug. 24 and be preceded and followed by a week of activities and events.

Fifty years have passed since 250,000 people peacefully filled the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and heard the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his transforming "I Have a Dream" speech. That outpouring spurred passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Yet today, the dream is not realized, says the Rev. Al Sharpton, founder of the civil rights organization National Action Network, who spoke at a news conference announcing the themes and event for the anniversary march.

"This will not be just a nostalgia visit," he said. "It's a continuation of a call to action in a climate that is threatening to the achievements of the past 50 years."

March on Washington Press Conference 2013

"The need for political and economic rights is stronger than ever," said AFT president Randi Weingarten.

"The fight for equality and justice starts at the voting booth, at the job site, at the school site." Budding AFT leaders like the late Sandra Feldman cut their teeth on helping to organize the March on Washington, working with Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph and other heroes of that time. This summer, said Weingarten, we will mobilize members to be back in the nation's capital on Aug. 24. "We are proud to be not drum majorettes but soldiers to continue the work of Martin Luther King."

Other speakers at the news conference showed the broad and deep commitment behind this year's commemoration. They included Ben Jealous of the NAACP; Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Melanie Campbell of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Charles Steele Jr., of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Allendra Letsome of the National Organization for Women.

"We still need to mobilize for justice, freedom and equality," said Martin Luther King III. "The issues now are immigration, 60 million Americans living in poverty, no jobs and violence. The fact that we can't pass legislation to check gun violence tells you where we are today."

Clayola Brown, president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, cited AFT's place alongside Randolph in mustering resources and support for the last march and its goals. "Like then, today the job situation is deplorable," she noted. "Today we have 30-year-old people who have never had a full-time job in their lives."

Sharpton reiterated the goals and plans of the 50th anniversary commemoration: to march from the Lincoln Memorial to the King Memorial; to link the goals of the traditional civil rights and labor organization to a new generation of leaders; and to take a renewed message of civil and human rights to Capitol Hill. This will mark the start of a yearlong campaign, said Sharpton, to take on issues such as poverty, jobs, racial and class inequality, gender and immigration discrimination in the same spirit of nonviolent social action. [Barbara McKenna]

June 26, 2013