History repeated itself drawing people by the thousands for 2020’s March on Washington.
The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom marked a turning point in the fight for civil rights and saw Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his now-famous “I Have A Dream” speech in front of 250,000 people at the National Mall. On Friday, August 28, 2020, exactly 57 years later, history repeated itself self-drawing people in the tens of thousands to continue the fight for social change.
Friday’s Commitment March: Get Your Knees Off Our Necks was organized by the National Action Network (NAN) and Reverend Al Sharpton march in reference to the killing of George Floyd in May.
“George Floyd’s story has been the story of Black folks because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed to be is you kept your knee on our neck,” Sharpton said at a service in June. “It’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say, ‘Get your knee off our necks!'”
Numerous speakers, including Martin Luther King III and family members of Black Americans killed in police encounters, gathered on the steps of Lincoln Memorial demanding racial justice and police reform in an event meant to recall the 1963 march.
The event started early on Friday morning with the arrival of thousands of protesters from across the country to the National Mall. An estimated 50,000 participants are said to have been in attendance (On Tuesday, August 24, NAN’s D.C. Bureau Chief Ebonie Riley told DCist at least 40,000 people had registered online). Hotels nearby had been sold out for weeks, according to Riley.
Organizers followed strict social distancing guidelines to ensure everyone’s safety. Face masks were mandatory for all attendees (those which didn’t have one were given one) and organizers carried temperature checks at the entrance. Chairs placed by Lincoln Memorial were spread apart to maintain the required security distance.
Protesters kept arriving throughout the morning and the lines for entering grew to astounding lengths foreshadowing what would be a historic turnout.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s only granddaughter, Yolanda Renee King, was one of the first to speak from the Lincoln Memorial steps, followed by her father Martin Luther King III.
Great challenges produce great leaders,” said Yolanda, 12. “We have mastered the selfie and Tik Tok, now we must master ourselves. Less than a year before he was assassinated, my grandfather predicted this very moment. He said we were moving into a new phase of the struggle,” said Yolanda Renee King. “The first phase was the civil rights. And the new phase is genuine equality. … We are going to be the generation that ends systemic racism once and for all, now and forever.”
Martin Luther King III also noted that the March on Washington was assembled on the day that 14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched in Mississippi in 1955. “65 years later, we still struggle for justice,” he continued. “We are socially distant but spiritually united.”
Family members of George Floyd, Jacob Blake and Breonna Taylor also took to the stage to express their desire for much needed social and political changes.
“We will not be a footstool to oppression, “Jacob Blake’s sister, Letetra Widman, said. “Black America, I hold you accountable. You must stand. You must fight, but not with violence and chaos.”
“We’re at a point we can get that change,” Breonna Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, added, “but we have to stand together — we have to vote.”
In his much-anticipated speech, Rev. Sharpton called on the crowds to actively work towards legislation change. “Demonstration without legislation will not lead to change,” he said. “We didn’t come out here and stand in this heat because we didn’t have anything to do. If we will stand in the heat, we will stand in the polls all day long.”
“It’s time we had a conversation with America. We need to have a conversation about your racism, about your bigotry, about your hate, about how you will put your knee on our neck while we cry for our lives,” he continued.
The absence of one key figure was particularly felt–that of civil rights icon, John Lewis. But his spirit remained very much alive during the march. “We are here today because people died, and were denied basic civil rights,” said Congresswoman Joyce Beatty, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. “… John Lewis left us with marching orders.”
Reverend Al Sharpton also invoked Lewis in his speech. With a nod to Lewis’ advocacy of getting into “good trouble,” Sharpton said, “we didn’t come to start trouble, we came to stop trouble.”
“Black lives matter,” Sharpton said. “And we won’t stop until it matters to everybody.”
[Featured image: Lauren Payne via Twitter]