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LIers make it to D.C. to mark 50th anniversary of March on Washington

Rep John Lewis, Rev Al Sharpton, Nancy Pelosi

Rep John Lewis, Rev Al Sharpton, Nancy Pelosi and others prepare to kick off the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. (Aug. 24, 2013) Credit: Charlie Archambault

Diane Johnson attended the March on Washington 50 years ago, a civil rights milestone she'll never forget. Now the Lakeview resident has another indelible memory.

Johnson, 64, returned to the National Mall Saturday for the encore, the sight of the huge crowd bringing tears to her eyes.

"It's very emotional," said Johnson, who attended the original march as a member of a New York City mission camp.

"I kind of welled up because of what it symbolizes," she said. "It's good to see so many people out here."

Johnson was one of more than 50 people who gathered at 12:30 a.m. at Hempstead's Union Baptist Church to board a bus to Washington, D.C. All were eager to attend the 50th anniversary celebration of the march -- and Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

The group spanned generations -- from children who weren't born when King was alive, to adults who missed their chance to join more than 200,000 marchers at the 1963 event.

In organizing the trip, the church partnered with Women in Ministry State of New York and the Nassau chapter of the National Action Network.

"We had children on the bus who studied and learned about Dr. King, but now they have an active opportunity to hear and know Rev. [Al] Sharpton; to know Martin Luther King III," said the Rev. Seretta C. McKnight of Union Baptist.

King's oldest son and Sharpton, a longtime activist, were among the civil rights leaders who spoke Saturday afternoon.

Afterward, McKnight said she felt inspired to work even harder for true equality.

"We have been reinvigorated, recharged, re-energized to go back home to our communities and to do the work when it comes to all of those ills that are affecting our communities," she said.

Imani Bell, 14, of Roselle Park, N.J., said the march convinced her to become a politician, rather than the fashion designer she had planned to be.

"I want . . . a free country for everybody," said Bell, who traveled with her grandmother, Linda Bell, 67, of Lakeview.

People in the group old enough to remember the '60s struggle for civil rights said they're concerned that some of those divisive issues -- from equal job opportunities to voting rights -- persist today.

"If we're not careful with this voting rights, we're going to end up back where we were 50 years ago," said Harriet Buggs, 73, of Forest Hills, Queens. "There's still a distance to go . . . it just means we have to fight harder."

"To some extent, my generation has forgotten 'the dream' . . . and we've taken a lot of things for granted," said Gary Preston, 26, of Lakeview.

Preston, whose wife is expecting their son in eight weeks, said he wants a better world for his family.

"I would love to raise my son in a racially ambiguous world," he said.

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