50 Years Later, A March On Washington Among Generations : Code Switch Grandparents with grandchildren were among the tens of thousands gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial Saturday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement's March on Washington. The rally is among many events around the nation's capital over several days marking the historic march.
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50 Years Later, A March On Washington Among Generations

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50 Years Later, A March On Washington Among Generations

50 Years Later, A March On Washington Among Generations

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This is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.


A. PHILIP RANDOLPH: Fellow Americans, we are gathered here in the largest demonstration in the history of this nation.

LYDEN: Fifty years ago next week, civil rights leader and march organizer A. Philip Randolph welcomed hundreds of thousands of people to the National Mall in Washington, D.C.


RANDOLPH: I have the pleasure to present to you Dr. Martin Luther King J-R.

LYDEN: The March on Washington for jobs and freedom on August 28, 1963 was the high point of the civil rights movement.


MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: I have a dream that one day, this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.

LYDEN: Today, the National Mall filled with people there to re-walk the historic march route to remember how far we've come as a nation since that day and to reflect on how far we still have to go.


LYDEN: Hansi Lo Wang of NPR's Code Switch team was at the gathering, and he has this report.


HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: They came by the beat of drums - grandparents with their grandchildren, committee organizers and activists, church members and college students. A slow, early-morning trickle of foot traffic out of the subway and off tour buses grew into a steady stream. By midmorning, thousands filled around the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

MONE ARMAH: Come get a sign if you're going to the march. Take as many as you like.

WANG: Many carried blue and yellow poster board signs distributed by NAACP volunteer Mone Armah of Houston, Texas.

ARMAH: We have We March for Jobs and Freedom, We Want to March to Protect Voting Rights. So we have about five or six different signs here.

WANG: Signs that echoed similar calls for economic opportunities for all Americans 50 years ago. Back then, Todd Endo of Amissville, Virginia, helped carry a blue banner calling for Better Americans for a Greater America, as he walked across the National Mall. You were here 50 years ago.

TODD ENDO: I was. Just about at this spot.

WANG: Endo was 21 when he, his mother and other members of the Japanese American Citizens League marched in 1963.

ENDO: The audio wasn't very good. They had no video. You could barely see the Lincoln Memorial, so we didn't hear any of the speeches.

WANG: Did you hear Dr. King?


WANG: You didn't hear Dr. - you were here, and you didn't hear Dr. King?

ENDO: No, not live.

WANG: Fifty years ago, Jo Ann Johnson from the Bronx in New York City also stood on the mall. She was barely a teenager. Do you remember where you were standing?

JO ANN JOHNSON: All the way back there. All the way back.

WANG: You have a really good view right now.

JOHNSON: Yes, we do.

WANG: Sitting beside the reflecting pool, Johnson recalls the check Martin Luther King Jr. mentioned in his 1963 speech. The check from America's metaphorical bank of opportunity that would extend the riches of freedom and the security of justice to all African-Americans. Today in 2013, she wonders...

JOHNSON: Have we advanced? I'm still waiting for the check.

WANG: The check that Martin Luther King was talking about?

JOHNSON: That's right. I'm still waiting for it.

WANG: Eric Cole of Cincinnati, Ohio, was just 2 years old when Martin Luther King spoke, too young to understand the struggle. There's been progress over the years, but he says he's a realist.

ERIC COLE: I'm not looking for any miracles, but I'm hoping that at least the consciousness will be raised about high unemployment.

WANG: Consciousness was just one of the goals for the national leaders who spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder emphasized that America's struggle for justice will go on.

ERIC HOLDER: Until every eligible American has the chance to exercise his or her right to vote unencumbered by discriminatory or unneeded procedures, rules or practices.

WANG: Other speakers called for the repeal of Stand Your Ground laws, a central focus in the trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin.

Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of the slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, urged the crowd to apply a different meaning to the name of the controversial law.

MYRLIE EVERS-WILLIAMS: We can think of standing your ground in the negative, but I ask you today to flip that coin. Stand your ground in terms of fighting for justice and equality.

WANG: Evers-Williams represented an earlier generation of civil rights leaders, a generation that keynote speaker Reverand Al Sharpton said, paved the way to success for younger generations.

REVEREND AL SHARPTON: You got there because some unleaded grandmas who never saw an inside of a college campus put their bodies on the line in Alabama and Mississippi and sponsored you up here.

WANG: And for that, Cory Booker, Newark, New Jersey, mayor and U.S. Senate candidate, said he was grateful.

MAYOR CORY BOOKER: And so now, I call upon my generation to understand that we can never pay back the struggles and the sacrifices of the generation before, but it is our moral obligation to pay it forward.

WANG: A call to action that inspires 38-year-old Kwanzaa Nivens of Washington, D.C.

KWANZAA NIVENS: Just to hear what a lot of people went through 50 years ago to get us to where we are today, it really motivates me to do more.

WANG: Today, doing more meant marching to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and then the Washington Monument in her tennis shoes.

NIVENS: Walking gear.

WANG: Got a lot of walking today, I guess.

NIVENS: Absolutely. And on Wednesday.

WANG: That's when Nivens will be volunteering at another commemoration on the March on Washington's official 50th anniversary. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, Washington.

ARMAH: We ran out of Trayvon Martin tags. And if you want to check our post on the other side, they might have some more over there.


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