Having covered the Million Man March in 1995, the present writer knows what a million people on the National Mall looks like. Although there were not a million people present today, there is no question that the goal of 250,000 that was met in 1963 was met again today. Watching the long lines of people enter the event area to honor Dr. Martin Luther King from 8:00 a.m. until President Obama spoke at 2:45 p.m. clearly showed the anniversary celebration ended on a victorious note.
Interviews with people in line found that many were there to honor Martin Luther King and did not mind the long lines and the security checkpoint. “This is no different than the lines at the Memorial Day program at the United States Capitol. They have three presidents here. Of course, security will be tight,” the participant said. A Park Ranger walked along the lines to greet people and to apologize for the long wait.
Bringing three American presidents to any event is a major tribute to the memory of Martin Luther King and the fact that so many people traveled to Washington to honor Dr. King was a visual manifestation of what he accomplished with the I Have a Dream speech on August 28, 1963. With so many wonderful speakers it would be impossible to list them all and to report on every speech. It is recommended that readers go to the C-span website to see all the speakers and performers; however, one indisputable element of the program today was that the speeches given by the three presidents added something that was missing 50 years ago.
President Jimmy Carter, who founded the United States Department of Education, gave one of those honest and sincere recollections of the horrible conditions that African-American children were subjected to in the south of the United States of America when he was a member of the school board after his service in the navy. While many in the south paint romanticized images of the racist system that was designed to keep blacks intellectually inferior, Carter gave the millions of people watching his speech on television an inside look at the segregated schools of the sixties. It was not a pretty picture.
President Bill Clinton, who gave the commencement address at Howard University on May 14, 2013, told the audience that Dr. King would not be pleased to hear people constantly complaining rather than to put their shoulders to the effort of correcting the injustices that still exist. President George W. Bush is recovering from heart surgery and the elder Bush is in a wheelchair that would have made travel to the event very difficult. The thought of having five American presidents at the event would have made the security check even longer.
President Barack Obama said that while no person could ever match Martin Luther King’s brilliance and oratorical abilities, all Americans can still march. He acknowledged the role that Martin Luther King played in making it possible for him to become the first African-American president of the United States of America. He gave a powerful address. It was not the I Have a Dream speech but it was a call for all Americans, regardless of political party, to work together for the betterment of the nation. President Obama assured the American people that he will not allow any American to be targeted or discriminated against because of their political beliefs.
The one speaker who said so much in such a short time was former NBA player Bill Russell. He revealed that Martin Luther King had asked him to join the platform of speakers on August 28, 1963 and Russell said that he said no to King in order to be an interested bystander. It was an admission that some would have been ashamed to make, but Russell in his quiet and sincere manner, was able to tell the story without anyone questioning the truth of his revelation.
In the past efforts to estimate the size of the audience at the big National Mall events has been met by accusations of lying. Pictures do not lie. So this article includes 20 pictures taken at the event that hopefully will convince those who refuse to believe that a quarter of a million people stood in lines for hours, sat in the rain, sat on the ground, and walked long distances in order to show Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that 50 years after he gave one of the most incredible oratorical performances in America history his people, the American people, had not forgotten his contribution.
In giving credit where credit is due, the organizers of the event today served the nation well by creating a program that honored the achievement of Martin Luther King 50 years ago while at the same time giving the nation a clear call for what must be done to save America in the future. There were no incidents of violence. People sat side by side with little space between them for 5 hours without a single incident.
The sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners did sit down at the table of brotherhood today in respect and in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King. The event was an incredible success. The grounds were free and clear of trash and debris. The streets around the event were clean and neat. There was no repeat of the scene from August of 1983. The United States Park Rangers did an excellent job of serving the nation today.