Marchers Flock To The Washington Mall

A march and rally kicks off at the Lincoln Memorial this morning to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Organizers say the event is also meant to continue their fight for economic parity, voting rights and equality.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Tens of thousands of people are gathered in Washington, D.C., today to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It was at this event in 1963 that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered what history now remembers as his "I Have a Dream" speech. Organizers say that today is meant to commemorate that original march, and also to continue a campaign for economic equality and voting rights. NPR's Allison Keyes is at the Lincoln Memorial and joins us now. Allison, thanks so much for being with us.

ALLISON KEYES, BYLINE: You're welcome.

SIMON: Set the scene for us. What are you seeing?

KEYES: Well, Dr. Myrlie Everett Williams, the widow of Medgar Evers - who was slain in 1963, just prior to the march - just took the stage here. When I look behind me, the area around the Reflecting Pool is absolutely packed with people. And the crowd is beginning to rise up on the hill toward the Washington Monument. But I've got to say, the thing about that is the way the barriers are set up, almost the bottom part of the steps to the Lincoln Memorial are empty, when they were crowded with people before. And the media is then between the crowd and a group of more elite people, who are directly in front. So it doesn't look the same as the 1963 march. The feeling is the same, though. People are happy to be here.

There are a lot of flags flying. There's a CWA sign. But interestingly, I spoke to Freedom Rider Joan Mulholland - she was one of the marchers from 1963. And she knows that not only is the crowd here more diverse, there are more diverse issues. There is voting rights and criminal justice, yes, but people are also talking about climate change and LGBT rights. And there was much adulation of Bayard Rustin, the gay African-American who organized the 1963 march. And immigration is also a big issue here.

SIMON: The speeches have begun. I believe we can hear them going on behind you. What have you heard so far?

KEYES: A lot of people have been talking about voting rights. Almost all the signs that you see are voting rights. And they're also talking a lot about Stand Your Ground laws. Organizers, in fact, issued an agenda yesterday, including Melanie Campbill of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.

MELANIE CAMPBILL: It has taken the collective power of the people demanding justice to protect our civil rights. Say our civil rights, our workers' rights, our women's rights, our immigrant rights, our Latino-American rights.

KEYES: One of the earlier speakers, Mary Pat Hector of the National Action Network, is a young lady, and she told the crowd, "People are waiting for another Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. People are waiting for another Malcolm X. What if there isn't anyone else? What if it's all up to us?" The young people in the crowd went crazy.

SIMON: Allison, what about the people around you in the crowd? I know you've been able to speak with them. What do some of them say to you?

KEYES: I spoke to a young lady, actually, on the way in who's volunteering for the NAACP. She's handing out those blue, white and yellow signs that they've got. And she has said that she is honored to be here, to continue the legacy of the people from 1963. But she worries that issues between the races - from profiling to the divide - may continue for the next 50 years. And she's worried that we'll be talking about some of the same issues on the 100th anniversary of this march. So is David Cakely from Good Creek, S.C.

DAVID CAKELY: Well, the issue that I'm most concerned about is the voting rights issue and how there's been assault on our civil liberties. And that's really had me upset - a lot of things. And of course, you know, Trayvon Martin situation is another issue.

KEYES: Trayvon Martin's family is, in fact, going to speak here fairly soon. But the one other point I want to make: I spoke a couple of days ago to Terrence Muhammad of the Hip-Hop Caucus, and he just stopped by our desk to note that the crowd behind us is a little disconnected from what's going on, on stage. They can't hear what the speakers are saying because they're so far away.

SIMON: Allison, of course, the actual anniversary of the march is on Wednesday. Are there other events in the days and hours ahead?

KEYES: There are many other events, a plethora of events over the next several days. On Aug. 28th, however, the biggest event is, President Obama is speaking along with former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. They'll join the King family and dignitaries from all around the world, for a Let Freedom Ring celebration at the Lincoln Memorial. And they are going to ring bells on that afternoon, in King's honor.

SIMON: Allison, thanks so much.

KEYES: You're welcome.

SIMON: NPR's Allison Keyes, speaking to us from the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

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