Obama will deliver a speech that’s expected to be tinged with personal
feeling. Joining him will be Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington.
The 50th anniversary celebration — dubbed “Let Freedom Ring” — wraps a
week-long series of local prayer services, a youth leadership training
seminar, a round table about women of the movement, and discussions on
poverty and economic empowerment, among other events.
So much has changed since that day — perhaps most obviously in modern
times, the nation elected its first African-American president in 2008
— but for many involved in the cause of civil rights in this country,
there is more to do. The wattage of notables set to turn out is not
just a tribute to the nonviolent movement that King helped spawn as
well as to his personal legacy, but also a reminder, many believe, of
the work that remains.
President Obama, who will headline the final event, will be joined by
former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Oprah Winfrey and the
actors Jamie Foxx and Forest Whitaker will participate. Soledad
O’Brien and Hill Harper will host, and Rep. John Lewis (D) of Georgia,
who spoke at the 1963 King rally, will address those gathered.
Many forget that the original march focused on jobs and economic
parity as much as on equal rights, former NAACP chairman Julian Bond
told USA Today. Mr. Bond, 23 years old at the time, delivered speech
texts to journalists and sodas to celebrities, including Sammy Davis
Jr. He tells Susan Page, the paper’s Washington bureau chief, that
King’s speech helped shepherd into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The march, peaceful as it was, was one happening in an ongoing
conversation about why black unemployment is higher than white
unemployment and why housing is segregated in some communities, Bond
“Even today, 50 years from the March on Washington, white people tend
to live over here; black people tend to live over there,” Bond says.
“And as long as you live in separate places, you don’t know each
other. You can’t have access to the best jobs. You can’t have all the
fruits that the country promises for you.
“That was true 50 years ago; that’s true now. And it’s something that
has been neglected by the civil rights movement.”
In reflecting on the 50th anniversary of her father’s speech, Bernice
King, who is CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent
Social Change, calls the occasion a “wake-up call to really connect in
the freedom struggle” and not just in moments of crisis. She echoes
Bond’s description of disparities that still exist for blacks, adding
health care, the justice system, and the environment to the list of
issues requiring public attention and action.