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Remembering the March on Washington, and King's historic speech

People listen to speakers during the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., Aug. 24, 2013. Photo: Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT

WASHINGTON — Tens of thousands of people from across the United States gathered in the nation's capital on Aug. 24 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Yet they were not just there to remember the past. They rallied for what they believe is the unfinished business of the historic civil rights battle.

The group assembled under blue skies around the base of the Lincoln Memorial. Fifty years ago on that spot, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. Speaker after speaker implored them to become active participants in the quest for racial equality and harmony.

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., was the only speaker from the 1963 march. He fired up Saturday's crowd by pushing them to fight against the recent Supreme Court decision that struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

"I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Ala.," he told the crowd, referring to the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. Protesters were brutally beaten back then on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. "I got arrested 40 times during the '60s, beaten and left bloodied and unconscious. But I'm not tired. I am ready to fight and continue to fight, and you must fight."

"Our Quest For Justice" 

Attorney General Eric Holder echoed his message. He said Saturday's event was "about far more than reflecting on our past."

He said, "This morning, we must affirm that this struggle must, and will, go on in the cause of our quest for justice — until every eligible American has the chance to exercise his or her right to vote." He added that it must continue until "all are treated equally and fairly in the eyes of the law."

District of Columbia officials said they expected at least 700 55-passenger buses from out of town. The director of the NAACP's Washington bureau estimated that more than 100,000 people were on the Mall by noon on Saturday.

The people around the Lincoln memorial were celebrating. But the mood was also thoughtful. People sat on blankets or on lawn chairs and cheered as speakers made their points.

Many young people and adults wore T-shirts or buttons. Some carried signs protesting the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. Martin's mother was cheered loudly when she appeared.

The Right To Assemble

Emma Daniels, 70, wore a cap adorned with buttons from the 1963 march. Daniels pointed to where she and other members of her Georgia church stood 50 years ago when they made the bus journey to Washington.

"I wanted my children to have the same feeling that I had — change," said Daniels. "We came out here to march for change, we can't stay home. We've seen a lot of change, we're going forward, it's slow, but we're moving forward."

Daniels said she noticed a different atmosphere Saturday than in the Aug. 28, 1963, march. She said she remembers there being an air of concern then. Many of the 250,000 people who were there that day had traveled through a segregated South. They feared being stopped by inhospitable law enforcement officers along the way.

"This is so much more relaxed than when we came up — like a family reunion," she said. Melanie Marshall, Daniels' daughter, said Saturday's event gave her a greater appreciation for the right to assemble.

"In Egypt, people are fighting and killing each other in the street," she said. "We're lucky to be able to come together like this, in a peaceful way."

Obama To Speak On Aug. 28

Amber Brown, 43, made the five-hour drive from North Carolina with her two children. She said she wanted her children to learn "that there are people who fought and died to give them the opportunity to do whatever they want to do, and be whatever they want to be."

Darryl Simmons, 21, made the bus journey to Washington with fellow students from South Carolina's Claflin University. He said he "just wanted to relive history."

He added, "We're not exactly dealing with what happened 50 years ago, but there's stuff going on and we're here for justice." Simmons is president of Claflin's Young Democrats.

Wednesday is the March on Washington's official anniversary. Another large crowd is expected at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28. President Barack Obama will speak at the spot where King made history.

The nation's first African-American president is expected to discuss the progress and problems the nation has faced as it tries to live up to King's dream. A dream, King said in his speech, that his children "will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

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