Now 68 and a veteran labor and civil rights activist, Cash will be walking toward the Mall again this weekend, to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the landmark protest remembered most for King’s monumental “I Have a Dream” speech.
But the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that struck down part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the stark racial divide among Americans after a Florida jury acquitted the man who fatally shot black teenager Trayvon Martin have spurred debate about how much has changed and what more there is to do.
“I had hoped when I was a young man that we’d see a lot of progress by now,” said Cash, a resident of Columbia. “But I think we’re going backwards.”
A Saturday march tracing the historic 1963 route is one of the main events of a full week of activities commemorating the march, which drew 250,000 participants. For the anniversary march, the National Park Service has issued a permit for up to 150,000 people. A second, smaller march will be held on the anniversary itself, Aug. 28.
That day, church bells will peal in communities throughout the country at 3 p.m., the moment when King began addressing the crowd. In an afternoon ceremony jointly sponsored by the Park Service, the King Center and the legacy organizations involved in the 1963 march, President Obama will speak from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where King stood. The first African American president will be joined by former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
In many ways, the events are not purely commemorative but about unfinished business. The Saturday march is billed as a National Action to Reclaim the Dream. The march next Wednesday is called the March for Jobs and Justice.
“The message is that we still have to deal with issues that are alive in the 21st century,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, the talk-show host whose National Action Network is co-sponsoring the Saturday march with a host of other labor and civil rights groups. “While we celebrate 50 years of progress, we still have not achieved the dream of Dr. King.”
Sharpton said that dream is not narrowly the province of African Americans.
“We’re going to make sure that representatives of the LGBT community speak at the march,” he said. The organizer of the 1963 march, Bayard Rustin, was openly gay, and some in the movement tried to push him aside.
“Women weren’t major speakers,” Sharpton said. “We’re going to correct that.”
At the moment, it is unclear how big a crowd will be drawn to Washington for the anniversary.
All 600 parking spaces for buses at RFK Stadium have sold out for Saturday, but none have been reserved for Wednesday. Several downtown hotels said that reservations are ticking up but that plenty of rooms remain available.