WASHINGTON, D.C.-The 60th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place two days before the actual anniversary which was August 28, 1963.
This year’s march was always going to be a bit different anyway with all of the social media, print, digital and television media on hand, and diversity of speakers set to be a part of the annual affair. In 1963 there was only one female speaker, this year the female speakers outnumbered their male counterparts.
From Congresswoman Nikema Williams (GA-05) to Planned Parenthood President and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson to singer/actress Melba Moore, who used her time in front of thousands gathered on the National Mall to sing a melody of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” the female voice of the march was heard loud and clear.
The National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) President Shavon Arline-Bradley talked about being able to speak for the Black women that did not get the opportunity to do so at the first march. “60 years later we now have women involved,” said Arline-Bradley, who added that the issues Black people were fighting for 60 years ago are still up for debate.
People from all over the county journeyed to D.C. to take part in the march.
Lajuane Pleasant, 62, came from Phoenix, Arizona to “see and feel the vibe,” she said. Dressed in a black National Action Network t-shirt, white shorts and sunglasses, Pleasant added, “I want to feel the energy and experience the love.”
Wanda Farmer, in town for the march from nearby Baltimore, Maryland, waved a pair of signs that read, “Hatred Must Die, Kill It Now” and “Last Drop. Stop. Stop.” The later sign was about gun violence. Farmer said she didn’t think she had enough hands to hold the amount of signs she really wanted to bring with her to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. She also added that she came to the March on Washington to “obliterate hatred.
Attorney J. Wyndal Gordon, the vice president of the National Bar Association (right) brought his eight-year-old son Jansen to the march. Having woke up at 4 a.m. for the 40-plus mile drive south on Interstate 95, Jansen was still sleepy around 8 a.m. when the invited speakers started making their way to the podium. asked why he brought Jansen to the march Gordon said, “we’re here because it’s represents what took place in 1963 and to re-energize our base because not much has changed since then.”
Another father brought his daughter and granddaughter with him to commemorate the event. William “Bill” High, 87, came from Las Vegas and met his adult daughter, Nora Wright, and granddaughter, Chantel Wright, in Washington earlier that day. High, then only in his second year as a member of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), was part of a security detail stationed on the steps of the LIncoln Memorial. “I was a young man back then,” said High with a laugh. “There were a lot more people here than there are today. This march should motivate us.” The author of a book on his career with the FDNY, “My Real Black Fire,” High remembers the immediate aftermath following Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech. “It was a beam to where we needed to go,” he said.
This year’s theme is “Not a commemoration, a continuation” and many of the people (there were nearly 40 speakers beginning at 8 a.m. and ending past 3 p.m.) that spoke made sure to mention the bravery and sacrifices of the people that came before them 60 years ago, but also the fact that many of the hard won freedoms that were earned after the first March on Washington are under fire today.
“It’s time that we galvanize ourselves to fight some of the isms that we are dealing with today,” said Gordon.
Nearly 40 speakers took the stage Saturday and under a hot sun, thousands of people listened to religious leaders from various faiths, CEOs from various organizations, including the Global Black Economic Forum, National Nurses United, the country’s largest organization of registered nurses, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, Sisters Song and EveryTown for Gun Safety. Former Ambassador to the United Nations and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and Rev. Jamal Bryant, the pastor at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, was there to represent Atlanta along with Congresswoman Williams. The former had been at that very spot in 1963. A much younger man then, but equally as powerful and influential of a presence. “It’s been a long, but wonderful struggle and I’m here to tell you I don’t feel in any way tired,” said Young, 91.
Notable and questionable celebrity speakers of the day also included entertainer Nick Cannon and actor/comedian Sacha Baron Cohen.
Public speaker and noted academic Michael Eric Dyson also made an appearance, bringing the crowd to its feet when he brought a white folding chair on stage. “Bring your chair, bring your insight, bring your hope, bring God with you,” Dyson said at the end of his three-minute speech on fighting for rights.
The march started shortly after Sharpton finished speaking and people wearing t-shirts that read “Trust Black Woman”, “We March for Peace”, “Black Lives Matter” and waving flags that said Roe, Roe, Roe Your Vote” and “Voter Supremacy Makes Democracy Fake” marched through the National Mall down Independence Avenue to West Potomac Park. There were men, women, and children marching. They were Black, white, Latinx, Asian, LGBTQIA+, all marching to continue the mission that started at the same place 60 years ago.
Annie Pearl Avery, a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1963, has found members of the first March on Washington. She was there with a group of student members and while looking over the crowd Saturday, she said, “This brings back memories.”
Having been arrested during the Civil Rights era, she recalled how it felt to see the train stop in Danville, Virginia to pick up more people on the way to Washington in 1963. “It was amazing when the train stopped in Danville because it reminded me of that time we spent 90 days in jail there,” she said, a smile slowly creasing across her face.
Having listened to dozens of speakers from a seat in the shade, she added, “We don’t have our problems solved yet, but methods and strategies change from time to time.”
This time she didn’t smile however. The March on Washington continues.