On Aug., 28, 1963, thousands of people gathered on the Mall in Washington, D.C. to demand the nation take action on civil rights. Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech to the assembly. Reporter Newspapers asked Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta, the last surviving speaker from that day, to describe the event and what it means to people in 2013. We also asked three of our local high school interns to describe how they view the March on Washington a half-century later.
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, on Aug. 28, 1963, was one of this nation’s finest hours. The American people pushed and pulled, they struggled, suffered, and some even died, to demonstrate their desire to see a more fair, more just society.
Leading up to the March on Washington, there had been an unbelievable amount of action on the part of the Movement. People were sitting-in at lunch counters, standing-in at theaters. They were beaten, arrested and jailed by the hundreds and thousands by state and local government officials. They were standing in unmovable lines all across the South trying to register and vote. Martin Luther King Jr., Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and other leaders had been arrested and jailed.
Those of us in the movement made a decision that we had to do what we could, give our very lives if necessary, to demonstrate that equal justice was imperative to democracy. The morning of the march we met with Democratic and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill on the House and Senate side. We planned to leave the Senate and lead the people to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. But when we stepped out into the streets, we saw hundreds and thousands of people pouring out of the train station.
They were black and white, Latino, Asian and Native American. There were members of every faith, speakers of many different languages. We were supposed to be leading them, but the people were leading us, and they literally pushed us down Constitution Avenue, up to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Dr. King inspired all of us that day with words that embodied what we all believed. He was the last speaker, but I was number six. I was the young upstart who said, “We march today for jobs and freedom, but we have nothing to be proud of for hundreds and thousands of our brothers are not here, for they are receiving starvation wages or no wages at all….I said, “We must seek more than civil rights; we must work for the community of love, peace and true brotherhood. Our minds, souls and hearts cannot rest until freedom and justice exist for all people.”
We have come a great distance since that day, but we are not finished yet. Many of the issues that gave rise to that march are still pressing needs in our society—violence, poverty, hunger, long-term unemployment, homelessness, voting rights, and the need to protect human dignity.
What the March on Washington is saying to us today is that we are at our best as a nation when we understand that our differences do not divide us. We will be at our best when we finally accept that we are one people, one family, the American family. We all live in the same house, the American house, the world house.
The March on Washington is saying to us today that we can unite for the common good to accomplish great things for all Americans and not just for some.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis represents Georgia’s Fifth District, which includes parts of Buckhead and Brookhaven. Lewis was one of the speakers during the March on Washington. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech to the marchers that day.
Reporter Newspapers interns discuss 1963 march
Fifty years ago, hundreds of thousands of people marched on Washington for civil rights. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his most famous speech during that march.
But, while we’ve come a long way thanks to the work of those before us, and Aug. 28 is an anniversary to celebrate, we can’t rest: 50 years later, we find a different set of rights under attack, while under our noses key civil rights legislation is being struck down. Dark times may be coming, but I believe we can stop them. We just need to keep fighting.
–Blake Flournoy, Riverwood Intl. Charter HS
In 1963, when a sea of people gathered for the March on Washington, they did so in a great public expression of their First Amendment rights. While my generation faces new issues of social justice, what still resonates today and stands to be learned from that event in history is that every American, regardless of race, gender, and even age, can generate change through activism and the use of constitutionally-protected rights.
The Civil Rights Movement showed that the Constitution is not merely a set of words to be memorized in a classroom—it is an adaptable tool for creating a better America.
–Mollie Simon, Chamblee Charter HS
One of the most memorable moments from elementary school was learning about Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. His words have influenced millions, and with each successive generation, his dream becomes ever more of a reality. While we have come so far in 50 years, there is still work to do. Discrimination based upon religion, sex and sexual orientation is still rampant in the United States and beyond.
MLK was just a single figure who represented countless people who chose to fight discrimination in their everyday lives. We can continue to shape society with each passing day, if we continue to allow ourselves to be inspired by the dream of equality.
–Elizabeth Wilkes, Northsprings Charter HS