The nation’s first African American president has joined U.S. civil rights pioneers to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the historic 1963 demonstration for equal rights that drew more than 250,000 people to the Lincoln Memorial.
President Barack Obama gave the keynote address Wednesday, standing on the same spot where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech that capped the march 50 years ago.
Obama told thousands of Americans of all colors and backgrounds attending the commemoration that King “gave a mighty voice to the quiet hopes of millions.” He credited the thousands of marchers who never made it in the history books for standing together to make a difference.
Former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton also spoke at the event, along with celebrities including Oprah Winfrey and Jamie Foxx.
President Obama gave the keynote address to the crowd.
“Because they marched, city councils changed and state legislatures changed and Congress changed and, yes, eventually the White House changed. Because they marched, America became more free and more fair, not just for African Americans but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans, for Catholics, Jews and Muslims, for gays, for Americans with disabilities,” he said. “America changed for you and for me, and the entire world drew strength from that example.”
Georgia Congressman John Lewis, the only speaker at Wednesday’s event who attended the original march, proudly told the diverse audience that “change has come.”
Civil rights leader Joseph Lowery said he is thankful the country has a president who understands the values expressed in King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. But he said the work for civil rights continues.
“We ain’t going back! We have come too far, marched too long, prayed too hard, wept too bitterly, bled too profusely and died too young to let anybody turn back the clock on our journey to justice,” he said.
The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech urged racial harmony and justice. It was hailed by historians as one of the greatest ever delivered.
The 1963 “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” was held at the height of the American civil rights movement that was aimed at ensuring the rights of all people are equally protected by the law. The movement had faced strong and sometimes violent resistance to ending the practice of segregation that treated white and black Americans differently under the law.