From the archives: For 55,000, 'Dream' Lives; 25 years later, they march on
This article was originally published in Newsday on Aug. 28, 1988
WASHINGTON - In a spirited and politically pointed commemoration of the historic 1963 civil rights march on Washington, about 55,000 people gathered here yesterday to call for the fulfillment of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of equality.
The words of the man who became the symbol of the civil rights struggle were invoked over and over, in song, in colorful placards and in impassioned addresses by guest orators. "We shall overcome," they said. Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the Democratic presidential nominee, said it in Spanish. "Mano a mano, vamos a ganar," he concluded his speech.
"We still have a dream," said Coretta Scott King, wife of the slain leader, as she stood on the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where her husband had delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
While there have been achievements since the march on Washington King led on Aug. 28, 1963, they all agreed, the marchers and their new leaders, that King's vision of an America without racism or poverty is far from realized.
"The festering sores of poverty, racism, war and violence continue to frustrate our hopes for total freedom for all people," Coretta Scott King said.
King was one of the few speakers yesterday who did not overtly refer to the presidential campaign or criticize Vice President George Bush, the Republican presidential nominee; his running mate, Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle, and the Reagan administration.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, Dukakis' chief rival during the Democratic primaries and a former aide to the Rev. King, said Reagan and Bush are "trying to return us to an old fortress."
"They are trying to rebuild old walls," he said. "They have fought to crush the dream."
Jackson got the biggest cheers of the day when he said, "George Bush is not in Washington today. He must not be here for the Inauguration next January."
"This is a non-partisan gathering, and both presidential candidates were invited," said Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young. "And yet," he continued, "only one candidate chose to respond."
Bush's organizers said he had a previously scheduled campaign event in Texas. Bush, like Reagan, sent a message to the march, but neither was read to the crowd.
Instead, speaker after speaker - comedienne Whoopi Goldberg to Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) - criticized Bush and the Reagan administration's record on civil rights, poverty, joblessness and the Equal Rights Amendment.
"We must march until we have a Justice Department that understands the meaning of the word justice," Dukakis said, "until we have a civil-rights commission that believes in civil rights; and until we have a president who understands and respects the Constitution of the United States."
Dukakis was momentarily interrupted by cheers and applause from the crowd that had gathered on the lawns beside the reflecting pool of the Lincoln Memorial. Many, arriving in buses from South Carolina, San Francisco, Chicago, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, sat on picnic blankets under trees.
"We are here today to say that we will not be turned around, because we still have a dream'" said Coretta Scott King. "I grant you that fulfilling this dream will be an expensive undertaking. We will face a difficult struggle to translate the dream into a national agenda.'
That dream, said Walter E. Fauntroy, the District of Columbia's congressional delegate, includes congressional bills to increase the minimum wage, to impose a moratorium on nuclear testing, to impose comprehensive sanctions against South Africa and to grant statehood to the District of Columbia.
There were speeches on voter registration, the Equal Rights Amendment, an end to contra aid, nuclear disarmament, better child care, better working conditions for members of a farmers union, decent housing, more jobs that reflect the theme of the march: "We march for jobs, peace, freedom and equality."
In comparison to the original march and the march in 1983 - both drew 250,000 each - and to organizers' predictions of 100,000 turnout - yesterday's was small. Some marchers blamed lack of publicity and last-minute organization.
"We scrambled for three weeks to get this together and arrange for people to come today," said Sandy Pope, a union organizer for UAW/AFL-CIO District 65 in New York City. The group had five buses from Manhattan and one from Long Island. But there could have been more participants, she said, if others had known about the march sooner.
Promptly at noon, Dukakis, Jackson, Coretta Scott King, Young, Cleve Robinson, one of the organizers of the '63 march, and other officials, joined the short march from the Washington Monument down the Mall to the Lincoln Memorial. The line of dignitaries walked arm in arm, singing the song of the civil rights movement, "We Shall Overcome."
Many of those who attended said that the relatively light turnout should not draw away from the significance of yesterday's march. For Barbara Roberts of Manhattan, who marched in 1963, yesterday's event was a reaffirmation of gains achieved during the turning point of the civil rights movement.
"I think a lot of people have gotten lax," said Roberts. She joined a group representing the United Auto Workers Union, which had delegations from across the country. "The new march is a reminder to all of us that we should not forget what went on, and we should continue the fight. The younger generation needs to get involved."