March on Washington Then & Now: 5 Fast Facts You Should Know

March on Washington

Getty People attend the "Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks" protest against racism and police brutality, on August 28, 2020, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. - Anti-racism protesters marched on the streets of the US capital on Friday, after a white officer's shooting of African American Jacob Blake. The protester also marked the 57th anniversary of civil rights leader Martin Luther King's historic "I Have a Dream" speech delivered at the Lincoln Memorial.

Fifty-seven years after Dr. Martin Luther King led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where he gave his stirring “I Have a Dream” speech, activists demanding change to racial injustice are once again marching, this time, to bring attention to a call for policing and criminal justice reform.

The march called “Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” was organized by the National Action Network, or NAN, which was founded by Rev. Al Sharpton in 1991.

CNN reported that about 100,000 people signed up to be there, but National Parks Service expected about half of that.

Here is what you need to know:


1. The Families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, & Eric Garner Are Part of the March

March on Washington

GettyAttendees stand in the reflecting pool near the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington August 28, 2020 in Washington, DC. Today marks the 57th anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech at the same location. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

As part of the march demanding justice, NAN said that the families of some of the victims who lost their lives at the hands of police would be involved in the peaceful demonstration.

Black people are 3 times more likely to be killed by police than whites and 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed when they’re killed, according to mapping violence. In 99% of cases in which police killed a person, officers are not charged.

In the cases of EMT Breonna Taylor, who was shot multiple times and killed in Louisville, Kentucky in March this year when police raided the wrong apartment, calls for arrests of the police involved have yet to be answered.

Eric Garner was killed in a police chokehold when he was arrested on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes in Staten Island, but a grand jury found “no reasonable cause” to charge the officer. Five years later federal prosecutors agreed not to file charges against officer Daniel Pantaleo who killed the husband and father of five who repeatedly said “I can’t breathe” as Pantaleo was choking him to death.

In the case of George Floyd, though, it was different. Another Black man whose words “I can’t breathe” became a rallying cry for racial injustice after a video of officer Derek Chauvin holding Floyd down with his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds went viral, striking a nerve in society that led to protests that have continued since his death on May 26.

In a rare case, Chauvin and three other officers were charged for their roles in Floyd’s death. That’s why the families of these high profile victims are set to “address the senseless loss of Black lives at the hands of police and advocate for issues including police accountability and criminal justice reform, voter protection and more,” according to NAN.


2. In 1963 The March on Washington Led to Change in the form of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill

March on Washington

GettyOver 200,000 people gather around the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, where the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom ended with Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.

In 1963 when civil rights activists including Martin Luther King Jr. and a 23-year old future Senator named John Lewis spoke at what was then the largest protest in history, they spoke of police brutality, unequal justice, and unequal economic opportunities, and they spoke of the way people were rising up to demand change. Both Lewis and Martin called for the peaceful protests to continue so that people of color could rise on the groundswell of those calling for civil rights for African-Americans.

But after the march, something happened that’s hard to imagine happening among today’s leaders. After the march, “King and other civil rights leaders met with President Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House, where they discussed the need for bipartisan support of civil rights legislation,” according to Stanford’s Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute.

Kennedy had been assassinated before the civil rights of 1964 passed, but according to the MLK Jr. Institute, “the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 reflect the demands of the march.”


3. Then, Like Now, Leaders Encourage Demonstrators to Keep Protesting Until Change Is Invoked

As the saying goes, as much as things change, they stay the same. Dr. King’s iconic speech about his hopes for a country plagued with racism, inequality and police brutality illustrates that his “dream” has not yet come true.

While many new rights were established for African-Americans in the Civil Rights Act, like de-segregation, laws can’t necessarily change hearts. As alt-right groups infiltrate themselves in the unfolding drama in the United States, it’s clear that there is a population of Americans who don’t believe or don’t care about the plight of the protesters, whose message that Black Lives Matter has become a mantra for those that want to see justice for Black people killed at the hands of police.

In 1963 King urged demonstrators to keep the momentum going until laws change. In his “I Have a Dream” speech, he said:

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. 1963 is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

John Lewis spoke in his speech that day about a proposed civil rights bill, saying it wouldn’t do enough to protect Black people from being brutalized in peaceful protests; it wouldn’t do enough to protect the Black right to vote, and it wouldn’t do enough to bring economic equality.

Therefore, he said, keep the protests going:

To those who have said, “Be patient and wait,” we have long said that we cannot be patient. We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now! We are tired. We are tired of being beaten by policemen. We are tired of seeing our people locked up in jail over and over again. And then you holler, “Be patient.” How long can we be patient? We want our freedom and we want it now. We do not want to go to jail. But we will go to jail if this is the price we must pay for love, brotherhood, and true peace.

I appeal to all of you to get into this great revolution that is sweeping this nation. Get in and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet of this nation until true freedom comes, until the revolution of 1776 is complete. We must get in this revolution and complete the revolution. For in the Delta in Mississippi, in southwest Georgia, in the Black Belt of Alabama, in Harlem, in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and all over this nation, the black masses are on the march for jobs and freedom.

Today’s march is an effort by today’s Black leaders to peaceably invoke change after nearly three months of protests and civil unrest in the U.S. With Al Sharpton and the NAACP, prominent attorney for African-American injustices, Ben Crump, and Martin Luther King III leading protestors to continue to stand up for the ongoing disparities many Black people still face today.


4. Martin Luther King III Shared How Relates to Black Victim’s Families, Saying, ‘Not Only do I Come as a Protester, I Come as a Victim’

The son of Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke in front of the crowd of demonstrators Friday saying, “Not only do I come as a protester, but I come as a victim.”

The younger King related his story of losing his dad at 10-years-old to an “assassin” and then his grandmother was killed by gun violence six years later, he said.

My daddy was killed when I was 10 years old, gunned down — you know that — by an assassin’s bullet. Some of you know but may not know, six years later, my dad’s mother, my grandmother, was gunned down in the church while playing the Lord’s Prayer. So, I understand what it means to lose a loved one, but I was so thankful that my grandfather and my mother and my aunts and uncles taught me about love, because granddad used to say, I refuse to allow any person to reduce me to hatred. The man that killed my lovely wife, and the man that killed my son, I refuse to allow him even to reduce me to hatred.

Those words are reminiscent of his father’s words 57 years ago when he said in the first March on Washington:

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: in the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny, and they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

5. The 2020 March on Washington Has to Mitigate for COVID-19 Precautions

As with any congregation of people during the coronavirus pandemic, avoiding a scenario in which coronavirus is spread is paramount. Sharpton and NAN said that even though there are risks of COVID-19 spread associated with the march, the “racial climate” means there is an urgency to “still mobilize.”

According to NAN, “The march’s COVID-19 protocols include distributing masks, thermometer check-in stations, restricting access to buses from states or cities that are COVID-19 hot spots, and practicing social distancing.” They said that volunteers and marshals would be present to enforce social distancing rules.

NAN said masks are required for all who attend, which is why they have them to distribute in case anyone shows up without a mask.

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