Fifty years ago, on August 28, 1963, nearly a quarter of a million people came together in Washington, DC, to participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It was then that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his powerful “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement.
Once again citizens from across the country will converge upon the nation’s capital on August 28, 2013 to commemorate and celebrate the historic March on Washington.
The demands made some five decades ago by speakers representing religious groups, labor unions, and major civil rights organizations have been realized in some areas but remain unfulfilled in other areas.
The stated demands of organizers at the 1963 March on Washington were the passage of comprehensive civil rights legislation, elimination of racial segregation in public schools; protection for demonstrations against police brutality; a major public works program to provide jobs; passage of a law prohibiting racial discrimination in public and private hiring; a $2 an hour minimum wage; and self government for the District of Columbia, which had a black majority.
Less than a year later, Congress passed and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964, followed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Demands for the 2013 March on Washington include a broader mandate as laid out by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the first African American to hold that post, during the Saturday, August 24, “Realize the Dream” rally and march.
“Our focus has broadened to include the cause of women, of Latinos, of Asian Americans, of lesbians, of gays, of people with disabilities. And of countless others across this great country who still yearn for equality,” Holder said. “I know that in the 21st century we will see an America that is more perfect and more fair.”
Holder also spoke of equal justice under the law. In his speech he emphasized that America’s struggle for justice will go on “until every eligible American has the chance to exercise this or her right to vote, unencumbered by discriminatory or unneeded procedures, rules, or practices,” and until the criminal justice system “can ensure that all are treated equally and fairly in the eyes of the law.”
Organizers of the 2013 march have called for reforms to criminal justice issues such as police “stop and frisk” tactics; “stand your ground” laws; police brutality; and the mass incarceration of African Americans.
On Wednesday, at the March for Jobs, Justice and Freedom, President Barack Obama will address the nation from the very spot where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech 50 years ago. Obama will be joined by former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. That event will be followed by the “Let Freedom Ring” Commemoration and Call to Action Ceremony.