Thousands of citizens, including gay rights activists, are arriving in Washington, D.C. from across the country for events leading up to the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, which occurred on Aug. 28, 1963.
A rally by the civil rights community will be held from the Lincoln Memorial to the MLK Memorial, convened by Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III, on Saturday, four days before the anniversary.
"It is as necessary and as effective now to march as it was 50 years ago," Sharpton told USA Today. "You have got to be engaged. You can't just do it on the Internet."
"Fifty years ago, the tone of the march was jobs and freedom," King was quoted as saying. "In a real sense, 50 years later, it's still jobs, freedom but justice…. Success for me is the fact that this is not just a one-day event. I hope we are helping to till the soils and creating a new generation of leaders."
The 1963 march, calling for civil and economic rights for African Americans, was one of the largest political rallies for human rights in U.S. history with about 300,000 participants. King, Jr., standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech during the march, organized by civil rights, labor and religious organizations under the theme "jobs, and freedom."
The march was followed by the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act a year later.
"I'm 94, but I'm not giving up simply because of age," ABC 7 News quoted Tim Black of Chicago, who led 2,000 to the march in 1963, as saying. "The mission of Dr. King is the thing that I'm dedicated to pursue."
"There are still critical things we need to advocate for," Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, was quoted as saying. "We know voting rights are under attack in this country. We need more equal pay for women...Fifty years ago, it was about policy agenda, and 50 years later it's about a policy agenda of our times."
Various issues will be raised at Saturday's rally, from change in self-defense laws in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting to poverty to unemployment, including gay rights.
Alix Dobkin, a 73-year-old retired folk singer and songwriter who attended the march 50 years ago, will participate as a representative of Old Lesbians Organizing for Change on Saturday. She said all should fight for freedom. "The movement is way more inclusive, and it's great. We've learned that's the only way to get social justice," she was quoted as saying.
At the commemorations for the 1963 march, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people will be included "like never before," according to The Associated Press.
"In '63, we didn't talk about gays," Sharpton was quoted as saying this week as he announced plans for events, joined by gay and lesbian activists. "Bayard Rustin [civil rights activist who was gay] had to take a back seat. Gay and lesbian leadership stands with us and will be speaking this time," he said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, civil rights leader Medgar Evers's widow Myrlie Evers-Williams, and Attorney General Eric Holder are also among the speakers.
Civil rights groups were active throughout the week. On Friday, a wax figure of Dr. King was unveiled at the Willard Hotel, where he stayed the night before the 1963 march.
The New York-based Center for the Study of Civil and Human Rights Laws has created a website called "50th Anniversary March on Washington," which carries information about some of the events to be held as well as features an audio recording of personal description by Rosa Parks, who was arrested on Dec. 1, 1955 for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Ala., transit bus.
President Barack Obama will speak to the nation on Wednesday from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to mark the anniversary.