Thousands gather in D.C. to commemorate historic March on Washington

After a week of protests and outrage over the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin, thousands of participants gather in Washington to commemorate the historic 1963 March on Washington. 

Civil rights leaders and advocates convened near the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his historic “I Have A Dream” address, a vision of racial equality that remains elusive for millions of Americans.

“I want to give space for Black people in the crowd to say they are not OK,” said Jumaane Williams, New York City’s public advocate, who addressed march attendees shortly after the program began.

The gathering came on the heels of yet another shooting by a white police officer of a Black man — this time, 29-year-old Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., last Sunday — sparking days of protests and violence that left two dead.

Early on, the march was shaping up to be the largest political gathering in Washington since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Jacob Blake Sr., the father of Jacob Blake, who was shot by police in Kenosha, Wis. addresses march. The event was dubbed the ‘Get Your Knee Off Our Necks’ Commitment March. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Families of victims of police violence attended

Many attendees showed up wearing T-shirts bearing the image and words of the late civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis who, until his death last month, was the last living speaker at the original March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

The march went on to become one of the most famous political rallies in U.S. history and one of the largest gatherings at the nation’s capital, with over 200,000 people advocating for social change.

On Friday morning, lines of participants stretched for several blocks as organizers insisted on taking temperatures as part of coronavirus protocols. Organizers reminded attendees to practice social distancing and wear masks throughout the program.

This year’s commemoration drew thousands of people to the National Mall in Washington. ( Susan Ormiston/CBC)

The crowds gathered to hear the keynote addresses from Martin Luther King III, a son of the late civil rights icon, and Rev. Al Sharpton who leads the civil rights organization National Action Network.

Both speeches aimed to stress the urgency for federal policing reforms, decried racial violence and demanded voting rights protections ahead of the Nov. 3 general election.

To underscore that urgency, Sharpton had assembled the families of an ever-expanding roll call of victims: Blake, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, among others.

Arbery and Martin both were killed by white men who pursued them with guns.

Following the commemorative rally, participants will march to the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in West Potomac Park, next to the National Mall, and then disperse.

Demonstrators listen to speakers near the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King, Jr gave his famous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech 57 years ago. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

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