City Desk

Marching on Washington, 50 Years Later

March on Washington

The only thing that could get in the way of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington Wednesday was the media.

Led by veteran marchers of 1963, hundreds of activists, schoolchildren, and other participants gathered on the 600 block of New Jersey Avenue NW to re-create the events of Aug. 28, 1963. En route to join thousands and thousands of others at the Lincoln Memorial, though, the marchers first had to get past the camera crews. Organizers repeatedly stopped the crowd in the first few minutes to try and clear a line of journalists with cameras and microphones walking backward in front of the procession.

“We had to keep the peace,” said Alice Holt of Suitland, who volunteered to be a marshal of the event. Eventually the marchers began pausing for more organized photo ops. “They didn’t know,” Holt said of the photographers and reporters. “That’s what we were there for, to instruct them on how to do their job of recording history.”

But marchers in the back hardly noticed, braving the heat and the rain during the almost two-mile walk. Rico Marlow of the District said he came to call for equality, specifically for D.C. residents. Marlow carried a sign that read “DC Self-Rule Now.” “We have to be respected,” Marlow said. “We don’t have a vote in Congress. Congress is taking over D.C.’s budget.”

Marchers carried signs representing different causes, from the killing of Trayvon Martin to the Voting Rights Act. Two women carried poster boards declaring all Texans were not racist. Another sign read: “Party of Lincoln, what are you thinkin’?” (The “th” was crossed out and a “dr” was drawn next to it.)

March on Washington

Colin Smith, a Virginia Southern University student from Silver Spring, had a popular poster that said “Mormons for Love” with a picture of the Human Rights Campaign logo. Fans of the sign pulled Smith aside to take pictures. Smith, a Mormon, said he advocates religious freedom: “I am from a religion that has not been that kind to the LGBT movement, and that makes me sad."

Though he didn’t carry a sign, Dupont Circle resident Sam Jennings wore a shirt supporting the Uppity Negro campaign started by Andrea Carter, a Tryst waitress who was fired for talking back to customers in 2004. Carter started the campaign to urge blacks to be fearless and speak out. “This march is all about Uppity Negroes,” Jennings said.

Photos by Ally Mutnick

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  • Samuel Augustus Jennings

    Wednesday's March on Washington started on time and after a few stops and starts we arrived at the west end of the reflecting pool facing the Lincoln Memorial. At that point smart planning and common sense came to a grinding halt and quickly disintegrated into ultra chaos and confusion. Thousands of tired, hot, and wet marchers huddled in the heat and rain for hours waiting to pass through vastly inadequate security check points. Rumors swirled that no bags would be allowed past Check Point Charlie but no one knew for sure because there were no announcements.

    Barriers should have been erected so incoming marchers could line up in an orderly fashion and pass through enough entry portals to handled a large crowd with minimum delay - like airports, Disney, and Whole Foods. Hello! A wheelchair entrance was barely used, yet persons without disabilities were not allowed to enter. (Next time I'll bring a wheelchair!) Stationing crowd monitors or ushers to dispense information and offer direction could have prevented a hot mess.

    It felt like trying to funnel the Atlantic Ocean into the Anacostia River. People were pissed. Weary walkers who had traveled thousands of miles to hear Obama speak became frustrated and left. My daughter had flown in from Orlando but was ready to leave after standing in the suffocating crowd for over an hour. We were exhausted and I didn't want to suffer through speeches by "DOMA Ask/Don't Tell" Clinton and and the "Lust in my heart" peanut farmer to hear our first African-Amercian we viewed a live stream of Obama's stirring speech in the cool comfort of my barely affordable overpriced Dupont Circle apartment. We noticed the reflecting pool was fenced off which prevented marchers from cooling their heels like original protestors in 1963.

    Who is to blame for this scorching fiasco? MOW planners? U. S. Park Service? Homeland Security? Secret Service? Whatever. I'm sure openly gay/original organizer, Bayard Rustin, could have done a better job.