Marchers hold signs during the 50th anniversary of the 1963
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at the Lincoln
Memorial in Washington. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Tens of thousands of marchers have converged on
Washington, D.C. to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the
Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech and
to urge action on jobs, voting rights and gun violence.
"We believe in a new America. It's time to march for a new
America," civil rights leader and MSNBC television
commentator Reverend Al Sharpton told the predominantly black
crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Sharpton and other speakers paid tribute to King and other
civil rights leaders for progress over the past five decades
that led to gains including Barack Obama's election as the
first black US president.
But the shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in
Florida last year and the Supreme Court's recent decision to
strike down a portion of the voting rights law showed the
struggle was not over, they said.
"King saw the possibility of an Obama 50 years ago. The world
is made of dreamers that change reality because of their
dream. And what we must do is we must give our young people
dreams again," Sharpton said.
The "National Action to Realize the Dream" was led by
Sharpton and Martin Luther King III, King's oldest son.
"We ain't going to let nobody turn us around. We're going to
keep marching down to freedom land," King told the crowd. "I
know that Daddy is smiling up above knowing that your
presence here today will assure the fulfillment of his
Organizers expected 100,000 people to attend the rally and
march from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument,
passing by the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
The National Park Service does not make crowd estimates and
organizers did not immediately respond to request for their
Under a bright blue sky, a huge throng of people crowded both
sides of the 2,000-foot-long (610-metre) reflecting pool east
of the Lincoln Memorial.
Other speakers included Attorney General Eric Holder, House
of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the family
of Trayvon Martin, and Georgia Democratic Representative John
Lewis, the last surviving organizer of the March on
Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug. 28, 1963, at which
Reverend King delivered his famous speech.
More than 40 groups participated in Saturday's march, among
them the Service Employees International Union, the NAACP,
and the American Federation of Teachers.
The march aimed to call attention to such issues as job
opportunities, voting rights, gun violence, women's rights
and immigration reform.
Despite big gains politically and in education, nearly half
of those who responded to a poll by the Pew Research Center
in Washington, D.C., think far more needs to be done to
achieve the color-blind society King envisioned.
King was among six organizers of the 1963 march, and led
about 250,000 people to the Lincoln Memorial on the National
Mall and delivered his "I have a dream" speech from its
The speech and march helped spur passage of the Civil Rights
Act and Voting Rights Act in 1964 and 1965, respectively.
King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He was assassinated
on April 4, 1968 at age 39.
Obama is scheduled to speak on Wednesday at a ceremony
marking the actual anniversary of the march at the Lincoln
Memorial. The commemoration is to include a nationwide
ringing of bells at 3 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT).