Jesse Jackson, Julian Bond share thoughts on 50th anniversary March on Washington
“One of my mentors once told me, ‘In order to be truly free, you must give deposits greater than yourself,'” Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks, Executive Director & Chief Executive Officer of the National Black Justice Coalition, said from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday.
This civil rights leader was one of many of today’s generation of activists invited to speak at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in Washington, D.C., which attracted almost 200,000 attendees.
In addition, many civil rights greats who attended the seminal 1963 event returned to this sacred ground to share their thoughts on how the anniversary march may improve current social conditions.
While some, such as Rep. John Lewis, the last living speaker from the original march, gave remarks from the Lincoln steps, others also shared more intimate thoughts while walking among the crowds.
Julian Bond: Still hopeful for change
Julian Bond, a civil rights leader and scholar who has been active since the 1950s, was present at the original march, going on from that momentous occasion to become a leading activist throughout the following decades.
“It feels like déjà vu, all over again,” Bond told theGrio towards the earlier part of the day. There was a brisk kick in his step as he walked between clusters of reporters eager to hear his commentary. “When I was here 50 years ago, it was a magic moment. There were more people here then, than there appear to be now, but you can’t tell how many will be here as the day progresses.”
True to his speculation, as the day went on, the reflecting pool sprawling from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial towards the Washington Monument became lined with thousands, creating a mirror image of those pictures from half-a-century ago. Bond was just as excited to be in the same place, 50 years later. Though now an older man, he nearly vibrated from head to toe with energy from being immersed in the sphere of activism.
What did this icon of civil rights hope these masses would take away from the day? “As was true 50 years ago, that people go home determined to do more than they’ve done in the past,” Bond said. “That is what I hope.”
Rev. Jesse Jackson: Pushing to end poverty
Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. was also there, in both 2013 and 1963. An important aide to Dr. King, and the current head of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, this seasoned activist remembered the much more volitile times that spurred black leaders to hold the March on Washington against serious opposition.
“I was here 50 years ago. I was still just fresh out of jail. The stench of Medgar Evers‘ blood was still in the air. He’d just been killed,” Jackson told reporters gathered near the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
He also noted the comparative sense of safety at Saturday’s event.
“We are free of a certain fear,” Jackson said of the marchers in 2013. “When we were [here in 1963,] Washington, D.C. was on lockdown,” he explained of the government closing ordered in anticipation of violence. “When we were here 50 years ago, the police were working 18 hour shifts for fear of some riot that never took place. People in D.C. were scared to come to the march.”
Jackson compared the expectation of violence that was projected onto the black community to the tangible aggression African-Americans suffered at the time.
“From Texas across to Florida we couldn’t use the same toilet,” Jackson said of past black-white relations. “Black soldiers had to sit behind Nazi soldiers after World War II on American bases. We marched against that humiliation and indignity and barbarism. Now we are marching to fulfill the dream. And the dream that Dr. Martin Luther King left off was when he was working for the [economic] rights of garbage workers. That’s our mission today. Fighting poverty and war and the rise of racism today.”
2013 march may renew grassroots politics
Jackson hoped that by stirring the hearts and minds of the populace through march anniversary activities, people will be inspired to push for concrete political changes now. He called for a renewal of the anti-poverty programs introduced in the mid-1960s, the revival of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and a policy of student debt forgiveness.
These leaders have given deposits greater than themselves in the hopes that, just as after the ’63 march, people today will be inspired by a show of unity to tackle pressing social issues.
“There is too much war, too much poverty and too much hate,” Jackson said. “Today must have a renewed focus on poverty, and access to jobs, and getting students access to college.”
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.