It was like old home week yesterday for the veterans of the 1963 March on Washington as civil rights leaders, entertainers and politicians gathered for the 20th anniversary of the march, embracing one another, reminiscing and making comparisons between then and now.
Like a roll call of names from two decades of headlines--with a few painfully notable absences--the lions of the civil rights movement reunited in a joyful recollection of the original coming together. Among them were organization leaders Coretta Scott King, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, M. Carl Holman, Vernon Jordan and John Lewis; the entertainers, Bill Cosby, Dick Gregory, Sammy Davis Jr. and Harry Belafonte, and politicians and political aspirants Julian Bond, Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson.
For all their emphasis on the need to renew and continue the struggle and the calls for an updated response to contemporary issues, there was an unavoidable looking back that seemed to underscore the commemorative nature of the event and to vindicate the appropriateness of its precursor.
Georgia state legislator Bond, seated on the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial, said, "This is bigger; there are more people. It's more inclusive, and I believe we will build a base for a bigger and better movement." Bond, a youthful-looking 43, was attending the 20th anniversary march with three of his five children.
"I have five children I have brought here today who are younger than the march," said Cosby, wearing yellow jogging pants and T-shirt. "They need to know about what is happening here. It's a time for history."
Coretta Scott King, regal in a purple pantsuit and wearing a large locket bearing her slain husband's picture, assured the morning crowd that he "will still be marching with us today."
"And he will still be out front of the parade ...our drum major for love, our drum major for peace, jobs and freedom."
King later held court under a tent where other leaders of the march were preparing to set off toward the Lincoln Memorial. "I think today is a very successful day," she said. "I am happy about the turnout. We are going to get our message through."
Belafonte arrived then, evoking a few squeals in the crowd. "I kind of felt neglected for a while," King chided him.
"Didn't you feel my presence?" he responded.
"I think in a funny way the spirit is very much the same today as then, despite the fact that these are supposed to be such different fragmented groups," said Holman, director of the National Urban Coalition, referring to the marchers wading in the Reflecting Pool below.
One major difference from 1963, Holman said, was that "not as many people here are just out of jails," from the massive arrests of civil rights demonstrators in the South that marked the earlier march. "There is no one who couldn't come because of being in jail," he said, pointing out Southern Christian Leadership Conference stalwarts the Rev. C.T. Vivian, Bernard Lee and former King aide Fred Shuttlesworth who were in the crowd.
Former National Urban League director Jordan was there, but he wasn't talking, at least not with reporters, as he moved about the pre-march grounds.
Early in the day, Gregory, survivor of hunger strikes for many causes, dropped his cane and knelt to greet one notable after another as they appeared. He clasped the hand of comedian Cosby, and drew him to his knees to whisper in his ear.
The Rev. Leon Sullivan, director of the Opportunities Industrialization Center, stood towering over Gregory, then knelt with him in the distinctive greeting. "This march will be the beginning of a whole new movement," Sullivan predicted. "In its own way it will be as inspiring as the first."
Meanwhile, Jackson, probable presidential hopeful, turned from one massed group of microphones to another, repeating how black people traveling here 20 years ago could not eat in restaurants or use bathrooms along the way, and even "could not stand on the steps of the state capitol," back home.
"We must now dream a new dream," Jackson said, drawing on the now hallowed theme as many would throughout the day. "It must be an expanded dream."
"Don't talk to him, Andy," Jackson teased at one point, turning attention to himself, as Atlanta Mayor Young bent his head to that of presidential candidate Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), who had approached Young in a circle of reporters to ask about his position on "a world development authority."
"I don't think there has been apathy," Young said. "We've just not been in the streets. We've been in City Hall. We've been fighting police brutality," Young added. The civil rights movement, he said, "has become a part of America's establishment . . . . We still have those same dreams."
Cranston remarked that the march represents "memories of things past, but now it's a look to the future."
Lowery, who heads the SCLC as King did when he made history 20 years ago, appeared to attract less attention than many others. But he was at Coretta King's right hand when leaders lined up to walk to the Lincoln Memorial, with D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy on her other side.
Holman recalled that in 1963 he had refused to bring his daughter, Kinshasha, who was in the 1983 crowd as an adult, bowing, he said, to the predictions of violence and disruption. The only threat of trouble yesterday, Holman said, came when organizers attempted to escort King from the platform for interviews. There was a crush, he said, because "they all wanted to touch her."