Deborah Miles was just 16 when her father brought her to the Lincoln Memorial 50 years ago to see the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. address the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
“My father said it was like the arms of Lincoln’s statue were embracing” King, Miles said. “You knew this was history in the making.”
A half-century later, Miles was among tens of thousands of people who came to the National Mall once again to hear leaders and activists speak from the steps of the memorial.
Families set up picnic blankets and chairs under the trees to escape the beating sun. Groups with matching T-shirts and signs brought their demonstrations into the crowd. For many, it was an opportunity to focus anew on work they said must still be done on racial and economic equality.
Martin Luther King III, son of the slain civil rights leader, called on those gathered to carry his father’s vision into the future.
“This is not the time for nostalgic commemoration. This is not the time for self-congratulatory celebration,” King said. “The fight must continue.”
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who was the youngest speaker at the 1963 march, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., urged new legislation to replace key parts of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the Supreme Court in June.
“You’ve got to push and pull and make America what it ought to be,” Lewis exhorted the crowd. “Stand up, speak up, speak out and get in the way.”
Others found resonance in subjects that were not on the agenda in 1963, including immigration reform, gay rights, gender equality, gun control and more.
Carrying a sign through the crowd that said, “CEO: $7,000/hour. Teacher: $19.42/hour. Absurd,” Michael Gross was stopped repeatedly by people who took his picture or let out an “Amen!”