Thousands of people line the reflecting pool near the Lincoln Memorial while listening to speakers at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a Dream" speech in Washington, DC. Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images
Alan Gomez and Eliza Collins, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - Tens of thousands gathered Saturday on the nation's "front yard," the National Mall near the Lincoln Memorial, yearning for a bit of the transcendent sense of racial unity heralded on this spot by Martin Luther King 50 years ago in his "I Have a Dream" speech.
From steps where King spoke, orators highlighted what they said was the unfinished business of achieving a broader sense of equality in America, while also offering hope that much has and will change.
"We cannot give up. We cannot give out. And we cannot give in," Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the only surviving speaker from the 1963 March, said to cheering throngs. While he acknowledged that the brutal days of civil right struggles are now gone, the push for a more perfect America remains. "We must get out there and push and pull."
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the first African American to hold that post, laid out a broader mandate activists must embrace today.
"Our focus has broadened to include the cause of women, of Latinos, of Asian Americans, of lesbians, of gays, of people with disabilities. And of countless others across this great country who still yearn for equality," Holder said. "I know that in the 21st century we will see an America that is more perfect and more fair.".
A message of cross-generational common cause extending from 1963 was a recurring theme Saturday.
"Me and my generation cannot now afford to sit back consuming all of our blessings, getting dumb, fat and happy thinking we have achieved our freedoms," said Cory Booker, the 44-year-old mayor of Newark, N.J., and Democratic candidate for Senate.
Throughout the day, speakers raised a myriad of issues including voting rights, widening economic disparity and how race in America that, despite so many advances, remains unfinished business to this day.
Keying on the fabled rhythm of King's "I have a dream" refrain, orators reveled in the repeating phrase, punctuating remarks with clauses such as: "it's movement time," "keep dreaming," "redeem the dream," and "we still have work to do,"
Aging veterans of the original March on Washington gathered with younger generations, amassing a crowd that in contrast was more female, more Hispanic, more diverse by sexual orientation and far more tech-savvy than in 1963.
Sixteen-year-old Qion Nicholson's only knowledge of the original march was what he learned in school. Arriving by bus from Asbury Park, N.J., he said he now feels part of that history going forward.
"I'm grateful to be living in today's era," says Nicholson, of Sayreville. "The (original) march meant so much for our country."
SET YOUR DVRs:
On Wednesday, August 28, at noon, the exact anniversary of the March On Washington, WGRZ-2 On your Side will air a special edition of Meet The Press. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the NAACP, were the guests on show just three days before the historic march. We will broadcast the show as it aired 50 years ago, with a brief opening and closing by the current Meet The Press moderator, David Gregory.