WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of marchers converged on Washington yesterday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Reverend Dr 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 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 significant gains, including Barack Obama’s election as the first black US president.
But the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida last year and the Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down a portion of the nation’s 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 fulfilment of his dream.”
Organizers expected 100,000 people to attend the rally and march from the Lincoln Memorial in the National Mall 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 own.
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.
More than 40 groups participated in the march, among them the Service Employees International Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Federation of Teachers. It aimed to call attention to job opportunities, voting rights, gun violence, women’s rights and immigration reform.