“The task is not done, the journey is not complete,” said Martin Luther King III.
He was standing in the exact space his father stood 50 years before – where he delivered the iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.
“The vision preached by my father a half-century ago was that his four little children would no longer live in a nation where they would judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” King said. “However, sadly, the tears of Trayvon Martin’s mother and father remind us that, far too frequently, the color of one’s skin remains a license to profile, to arrest and to even murder with no regard for the content of one’s character.”
Tens of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall Saturday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, listening as political and civil rights leaders reflected on the legacy of racial progress over the last half-century and urged Americans to press forward in pursuit of King’s dream of equality.
The event was presented by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, Martin Luther King III and the NAACP, and featured a roster of more than 25 speakers, including King, Sharpton, Attorney General Eric Holder, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.
Some commemorated. Others challenged the new generation to pick up where the march left off.
“Today we face continuing challenges,” Sharpton said in his keynote address. He expressed his outrage regarding the court ruling on voting rights and by the efforts of state legislatures around the country to erect new voting restrictions, such as voter identification laws. “Our vote was soaked in the blood of martyrs, and you can’t take it from us,” Sharpton said.
It was a sentiment echoed throughout the course of the mornings remarks.
“I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama, for that right to vote,” Lewis said. “I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us.”
Holder, the first African-American attorney general, credited the work of civil rights activists of the past 50 years with President Obama’s election and his own ascension to the top of the Justice Department.
“Those who marched on Washington in 1963 had taken a long and difficult road,” he said. “As we gather today, 50 years later, their march is now our march, and it must go on.”
After the speakers, attendees marched from the Lincoln Memorial to The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial before dispersing.
Saturday’s event was a prelude to the official anniversary activities of the 1963 March on Washington – which will occur on Wednesday and feature remarks from President Barack Obama.
“Our generation can never repay what they did for us when they fought for our freedom and equality – those who marched here 50 years ago,” said Booker. “But it is our moral obligation to pay it forward. “There is still work to do.”