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Marching 50 years later for King’s dream: ‘The task is not done’



Published: Sun, August 25, 2013 @ 12:05 a.m.

Valley civil-rights, labor, church reps attend

Staff and wire report

WASHINGTON

Tens of thousands of people marched to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and down the National Mall on Saturday, commemorating the 50th anniversary of King’s famous speech and pledging that his dream includes equality for gays, Latinos, the poor and the disabled.

The event was an homage to a generation of activists that endured fire hoses, police abuse and indignities to demand equality for African Americans. But there was a strong theme of unfinished business.

A contingent of about 110 people from the Mahoning Valley representing church, civil-rights and organized labor organizations took part in the march.

“It was so exciting to be here because 50 years after Dr. King and John Lewis issued a challenge to America here, many of the things they both called for are still applicable,” said Penny Wells, director of the Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past organization.

She joined others from the Valley — including Youngstown City Councilwoman Annie Gillam, her husband Artis Gillam, Valley contingents from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, and churches such as Price Memorial AME Church in Youngstown. Students from the Sojourn project also marched.

“This is not the time for nostalgic commemoration,” said Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of the slain civil rights leader. “Nor is this the time for self-congratulatory celebration. The task is not done. The journey is not complete. We can and we must do more.”

Eric Holder, the nation’s first black attorney general, said he would not be in office, nor would Barack Obama be president, without those who marched.

“They marched in spite of animosity, oppression and brutality because they believed in the greatness of what this nation could become and despaired of the founding promises not kept,” Holder said.

Holder mentioned gays and Latinos, women and the disabled as those who had yet to fully realize the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream. Others in the crowd advocated organized labor, voting rights, revamping immigration policies and access to local post offices.

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the only surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington, railed against a recent Supreme Court decision that effectively erased a key anti-discrimination provision of the Voting Rights Act. Lewis was a leader of a 1965 march, where police beat and gassed marchers who demanded access to voting booths.

“I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Ala., for the right to vote,” he said. “I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us. You cannot stand by. You cannot sit down. You’ve got to stand up. Speak up, speak out and get in the way.”

Wells from Mahoning Valley Sojourn called Lewis’ speech the most charismatic of the day. “That man has been such a steady force in the movement; he’s never wavered in his beliefs...He was gung-ho in pointing out the challenges of today.” Organizers expected about 100,000 people to participate in the event, the precursor to the actual anniversary of the Aug. 28, 1963, march that drew some 250,000 to the National Mall and ushered in the idea of massive, nonviolent demonstrations.

Marchers began arriving early Saturday, many staking out their spots as the sun rose in a clear sky over the Capitol. By midday, tens of thousands had gathered on the National Mall.

Lynda Chambers, 58, gave up a day’s pay to attend because her retail job does not provide paid vacation. Even as a 7-year-old at the time of the original march, she felt alienated and deprived of her rights. Remembering those feelings, she said, she was compelled to make the trip Saturday.

“I wanted to have some sort of connection to what I have always known, as far as being a black person,” she said.

Longtime activist Al Sharpton, now a MSNBC host, implored young black men to respect women and reminded them that two of the leading figures in the civil rights movement of the 1960s were women.

“Rosa Parks wasn’t no ho,” he said.

Speakers frequently mentioned persistent high unemployment among blacks, which is about twice that of white Americans, and the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida. Along the Mall, Martin’s picture was nearly as ubiquitous as King’s.

Nancy Norman, of Seattle, said she was disappointed more people who look like her had not attended. She is white. But the 58-year-old she said she was glad to hear climate change discussed alongside voting rights.

“I’m the kind of person who thinks all of those things are interconnected,” said Norman.

There was a media area and VIP seating. Everyone else had been pushed back and watched and listened to the speeches on big-screen televisions.

Police were stationed atop the Lincoln Memorial.

After the speeches, marchers walked from there, past the King Memorial, then down the National Mall to the Washington Monument, a distance of just over a mile.

On the day of the anniversary, President Barack Obama will speak from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. He will be joined by former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Churches and groups have been asked to ring bells at 3 p.m. Wednesday, marking the exact time King spoke.

Joseph Lowery, who founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference along with King, urged the crowd to continue working for King’s ideals.

“We’ve come to Washington to commemorate,” the 92-year-old civil rights leader said, “and we’re going home to agitate.”

———

Follow Suzanne Gamboa at http://www.twitter.com/APsgamboa


Comments

1handymandave(204 comments)posted 7 months, 4 weeks ago

When you've got nothing better to do you might as well take a nice walk around Washington with a few thousand unemployed fellow Americans. Barack can start off his speech by saying "My fellow American's who are you going to believe me or your lying eyes." Than we could clap and cheer, walk around some more, wish we had sustainable jobs then drive home.

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2papa1(543 comments)posted 7 months, 4 weeks ago

and the repubs are trying to push back voting rights by 50 yrs by trying to suppress the vote in minority neighborhoods. that's the only hope they have of getting the white house back. the whitehouse is now rainbow and the repub party with men like ted cruz and rand paul is doomed to extinction unless leaders with integrity and just common sense take these radical nutjobs on. this will just help the dems take back the house in '14.

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3XL(18 comments)posted 7 months, 4 weeks ago

"We come to Washington to commemorate, we're goin' home to agitate."

The Rev. Joseph Lowery gave this battle cry in his speech. He said it many times and had the crowd repeat. The 45% black dropout rate was brought up along with Trayvon Martin being killed. Stand your ground laws along with concealed carry will be under attack nationwide.

Guns,drugs and promiscuity are the biggest threats to the blacks nationwide. Most family units have been destroyed. Far too many are in prison away from their families. In placing the blame nothing will change. In trying to change the core problems the task will be monumental. The success will be on par with prohibition. It failed also. So, we have had change but nothing will change.

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4gdog4766(1254 comments)posted 7 months, 4 weeks ago

Handy@ss personally I love that you post show your reSCUMlican thoughts. It shows people exactly what your party is made up of.

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5Fred(130 comments)posted 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Life for the BLACK MAN can be anything that he wants to make of it. You now have the freedom to succeed and you also have the freedom to fail.

Don King made a choice and so can you!

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6southsidedave(4709 comments)posted 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Unfortunately, equality is something that may never be realized in this Country....racism runs deep, and for no reason other than false perceptions

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