Tens of thousands re-enact 1963 March on Washington

Thousands of people from across the country participated

Thousands of people from across the country participated in the events at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. (Aug. 24, 2013) (Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas)

WASHINGTON -- Tens of thousands of people Saturday re-enacted the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom after civil rights activists, labor leaders and Democrats urged them to continue to fight for justice, equality and the right to vote.

Under clear skies, speaker after speaker stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech, to acknowledge progress has been made but that much remains to be done -- including fighting attempts to roll back gains.

"This is not the time for a nostalgic commemoration. Nor is this the time for self-congratulatory celebration," said Martin Luther King III, son of the slain civil rights icon.

"The task is not done. The journey is not complete. We can and we must do more," he said to crowds around the reflecting pool, many with signs decrying the Trayvon Marvin shooting and verdict.

King and the Rev. Al Sharpton, who organized the march, laid out a full legislative agenda: restore the Voting Rights Act, pass comprehensive immigration reform, ban "stand your ground" laws, impose restrictions on guns and curb gun violence, raise the minimum wage, and boost job opportunities.

Attorney General Eric Holder, the first African-American to hold the post, and other speakers honored the activists who put themselves at risk to push for civil rights. "But for them I would not be attorney general of the United States and Barack Obama would not be president," he said.

Yet speakers also warned that gains are under fire: The Supreme Court in June struck down a key part of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, George Zimmerman was acquitted for shooting and killing Trayvon Martin in Florida, and unemployment and poverty persist for African-Americans.

"Almost 50 years ago, I gave a little blood in Selma, Ala., for the right to vote. I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the vote away from us," said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), 73, the only surviving major speaker from the 1963 march.

"You cannot stand by. You cannot sit down. You've got to stand up, speak up, speak out and get in the way. Make some noise," he said to loud cheers.

The nearly six-hour rally at the Lincoln Memorial and the short march to the Washington Monument that followed begin a week of commemorations.

President Barack Obama will speak Wednesday at the Lincoln Memorial on the 50th anniversary of the Aug. 28, 1963, march.

The short list of religious, labor and civil rights leaders who spoke in 1963 to a crowd of more than 200,000 contrasted sharply with the dozens of speakers Saturday. The anniversary's more diverse agenda included advocates for women, Hispanics, gays and lesbians, and others not included 50 years ago.

The rally also was more overtly partisan, featuring several Democrats including Cory Booker, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat from New Jersey, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Four of the major Democratic New York City mayoral candidates attended but weren't among the speakers.

Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, offered a political metaphor on flipping pancakes, adding, "I don't know much about politics, but I do know about flipping and we need to flip some people in Congress next year."

Reggy Pope, who helped organize a bus from Freeport to the march, said all the speeches of the day were "excellent," but his favorite was Sharpton's take on pancake and politics.

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens), who represents part of Nassau County, said the civil rights groups are allied with the Democratic Party because it has been willing to push the civil rights agenda.

Meeks, who sat near the stage with other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the line from Saturday's speeches that he remembered best was spoken by the Rev. James Lowery, 92, a founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that King once led.

Lowery led the crowds in a chant: "We come to Washington to commemorate. We're going back home to agitate."

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