By Miriam Raftery
August 29, 2013 (Washington D.C.) -- Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his now-famous “I have a dream” speech to a crowd of marchers in Washington D.C. from across the nation in support of civil rights. That movement in 1963 led ultimately to signing of the Civil Rights Act.
Yesterday, a massive crowd of people filled Capitol malll for a commemoration of that historic event. President Barack Obama delivered a speech at the Lincoln Memorial, site of Dr. King’s famed oration.
“The March on Washington teaches us that we are not trapped by the mistakes of history; that we are masters of our fate,” the President said. “But it also teaches us that the promise of this nation will only be kept when we work together. We’ll have to reignite the embers of empathy and fellow feeling, the coalition of conscience that found expression in this place 50 years ago.” View video of the President’s speech.
Attorney General Eric Holder also spoke, alluding to the Supreme Court’s recent decision weakening the Voting Rights Act.
“This morning, we affirm that this struggle must, and will, go on in the cause of our nation’s quest for justice - until every eligible American has the chance to exercise his or her right to vote, unencumbered by discriminatory or unneeded procedures, rules, or practices. It must go on until our criminal justice system can ensure that all are treated equally and fairly in the eyes of the law,” he said, adding, “It must go on until those now living, and generations yet to be born, can be assured the rights and opportunities that have been too long denied to too many.”
Other speakers included former President Bill Clinton, TV celebrity Oprah Winfrey, and Congressman John Lewis, the only surviving speaker from the original march half a century ago.
"Fifty years later we can ride anywhere we want to ride, stay anywhere we want to stay, those signs that say white and color are gone,” said Lewisd. “You won’t see them anymore except in a museum, in a book or in a video.” But he added that America still has a long way to go toward full equality, citing the recent Trayvon Martin verdict as an example of what he considers disparate treatment under the judicial system.
Some, including former president Clinton, reflected on how times have changed--then issued a call to action.
"We face terrible political gridlock now,” Clinton noted. “Yes, there remain racial inequalities, in employment income, health, wealth, incarceration, in the victims and perpetrators of violent crime. But we don’t face beatings, lynchings and shootings for our political beliefs anymore." But he urged, "I would respectfully suggest that Martin Luther King did not live and die to hear his heirs whine about political gridlock. It is time to stop complaining and put our shoulders against the stubborn gates holding the American people back,” Clinton added.
Speaker John A. Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the House’s two most senior Republicans, were invited to speak at the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington — but declined.
“They asked a long list of Republicans to come,” civil rights activist Julian Bond said, “and to a man and woman they said ‘no.’ And that they would turn their backs on this event was telling of them," he added. "They seem to want to get black votes; they’re not gonna get ‘em this way.”
Read more about the historic march and hear voices from the original marchers at the 50th anniversary website: http://50thanniversarymarchonwashington.com/