The first buses started arriving about 6 a.m. at RFK Stadium in Northeast Washington.
They carried families, church groups, members of organizations and others who had paid for seats on chartered buses. The thing they had in common was a desire to relive the famous 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom by participating in the 50th anniversary event on August 24.
William Kilpatrick, 70, of New Haven, Conn., who retired from the military, came with a group of about 50 family and friends who wore yellow shirts identifying them as members of the New Haven branch of the NAACP. He said he did not participate in the 1963 March because he was serving his country in Germany.
“My heart was there but I wasn’t physically [there],” Kilpatrick told the AFRO as he stood inside the gates of RFK Stadium about 7:30 a.m. “I have been waiting to do this for a long time. This is something I’ve wanted to do for 50 years.”
Peggy Cause, 52, and her son Michael Cause Jr., 24, who came from Long Island, N.Y., were befuddled by the fare card machine at the Smithsonian Metro stop. They had arrived at the station near the rally and parade route early only to find out that they needed to return to the Stadium Armory stop near RFK to meet family who were unsure of how to get to the Lincoln Memorial.
Peggy Cause said she came out to fight for justice for Trayvon Martin and other young Black men who are often not protected by law enforcement and the courts.
“I’m fighting for rights,” said Peggy Cause,” youth advisor of the NAACP on Long Island. “I’m fighting for Trayvon. I have a lot of kids in my program that look just like Tryavon.”
Michael Cause, a chef, said he was marching because of threats to voting rights, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to change certain aspects of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“I wasn’t here in 1963, but I know the history,” he told the AFRO. “I want to make sure we can keep our voting rights. We fought so long to get it, I want to make sure we keep it.”
The participants were jubilant. From RFK, where hundreds of buses lined up, to the Metro stations en route to the Lincoln Memorial to the National Mall, where tens of thousands converged for the historic event, the mood was cheerful. A feeling of camaraderie pervaded.
Women with children in strollers were assisted by young men who were walking with friends. Couples held hands. Little girls skipped. Senior citizens were walked slowly or pushed along the sidewalk by family and friends.
There were merchants hawking T-shirts with the likeness of Trayvon Martin, Emmett Till and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There were for sale posters, buttons, tote bags, keychains and all sorts of memorabilia featuring the faces of President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
Standing on the lawn next to the Reflecting Pool, Stefanie Williams, 45, of St. Louis, said her parents told her that people were fighting 50 years ago for the same concerns that Blacks have today. She came on a bus with 55 others to witness change.
“People need to put aside our differences with race and political party to work together as brothers and sisters, so we won’t perish as fools,” she said. “Unfortunately, here we are 50 years later. We are still fighting for the same thing.”
The Rev. Jamal Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple Church in Baltimore, told the AFRO that the march was a call to the young.
“We are passing the baton on a new Civil Rights Movement taking place,” he said.
As some of the prominent Black leaders prepared to take the stage at the pre-march rally at the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Family was hustled down Lincoln Memorial Circle by three security guards, accompanied by their attorney, Benjamin Crump.
“We’re blessed to be here,” Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, told the AFRO.
Local residents, who are used to large D.C. crowds, said the pre-march rally and parade were among the best events they had ever seen.
“It’s a wonderful day between the weather and the presence of the people,” said the Rev. Condie M. Clayton, 71, a retired D.C. police officer. “This is long overdue because we should have addressed these problems long ago.”
Clayton said he attended the 1963 March on Washington, but not as a participant. He was directing traffic near the parade route.
Lee S. Harris, 37, of Augusta, Ga., made his third trip to Washington, D.C. for the march. Harris was in the District previously for President Obama’s inaugurations in January 2009 and earlier this year, in January.
Known as the “Button Man,” he makes a living selling political buttons for major events.
“Buttons! Buttons!” he yelled at passersby. “Come and get your buttons! Just $1!” Harris said he was there to commemorate the historic March as much as to ply his wares.
“I’m here to celebrate the 50th anniversary today,” he said. “I wasn’t able to be here for the March in 1963, but I read my history on it.”