Now president of her local NAACP chapter, Shells pointed to voter ID laws and deepening economic inequality as key issues for black Americans.
“I didn’t think after Dr. King that I’d be here crying over the same issues,” Shells said. “I think we went to sleep and we need to wake up.”
Rick Ramsey, 56, took his son, Justice, to see the movie “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” — inspired by the life of a longtime White House butler — on Friday to give him a sense of the role that race has played in the United States. Saturday, Ramsey brought Justice, Justice’s sister and a friend to the march.
“I know it used to be that black people couldn’t do stuff,” said Justice, 13. “Now, in 2013, we have rights.”
D.C. Council member Marion Barry remembered standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, gazing at a sea of humanity assembled along the Reflecting Pool.
“It was a hot, sunny day in August, much like today,” said Barry (D), the council member for Ward 8 and a former D.C. mayor. He was a graduate student who had spent his summers volunteering with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
He recalled the fervor of the crowd gathered before King as he delivered his “Dream” address.
“The people were uplifted and energized,” Barry said. “I was proud of Dr. King for expressing our frustration, our dreams and our hopes.”
Barry spent Saturday morning at a rally for D.C. statehood, part of a movement that seeks to have the city renamed New Columbia and admitted to the union as the 51st state.
“I came here in 1963 and Washington wasn’t free,” Barry said. “We’re still not free.”
Barry said that the passage of time has brought substantial cultural changes to the District — black-owned businesses thrive and the city’s schools have long been integrated — but that progress has lagged in other areas.
“The poverty rate is higher now than in 1963,” Barry said. “Unemployment is higher than in 1963. The achievement gap is wider than in 1963. The more that seems to change, the more that remains the same.”
At the D.C. statehood rally, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) said statehood for the District was also an initiative supported by King.
“While much of Dr. King’s dream has come to fruition for our country, today, sadly, the District of Columbia still languishes without full voting rights, full representation or full democracy,” Gray said
Mark Berman, Emma Brown, Hamil R. Harris and T. Rees Shapiro contributed to this report.