Dispatches From the March on Washington

Attendees of the 1963 March on Washington link arms with college students and other marchers.

Emma Roller

“Make a hole! ‘63 coming through!”

The crowd marshals at the March on Washington in 1963 wore hats that made them look like bakers. Today, the marshals wear plain black T-shirts as they usher the ‘63 March attendees to the front of the crowd. A crowd marshal was leading an older black man to the front of the crowd marching down New Jersey Avenue. People turned to look and applauded the man, who looked back sheepishly. A teenager turned to his mom and said, “1963 … I wasn’t even born for 31 more years!” They kept marching.

The crowd here isn’t as big today as Saturday’s march—too hard to take off work—but it’s still sizable, in the tens of thousands. People gathered on the rooftops of downtown buildings to watch the procession. It began to drizzle as the crowd sang “This Little Light of Mine,” which led into chanting, “Keep. That. Dream alive! Keep that dream alive!”

Much like the original March on Washington, today’s march stood for a panoply of causes: the justice system, voting rights, jobs, and welfare for the poor. As thousands marched past the Bureau of Prisons downtown, some held up signs calling for justice for Trayvon Martin’s death and called the prison system “the new Jim Crow.” One sign took issue with the farm bill, reading, “Keep SNAP Funded.” Another took a statistical tact, noting that black people make up 12 percent of the U.S. population but 44 percent of the country’s prison population.

A few other stray dispatches:

In 1963 Rosa Byrd was 20 and had just moved to Northern Virginia. She became indignant at her past self when I asked if she was at the original march—she wasn’t. “I didn’t come! I was 20 years old and I didn’t come, but 50 years I am here,” she said. “I wasn’t a grown woman then, but I’m a grown woman now.”

Ramon Stewart, 31, had taken off work for the day to march by himself. He’d already called his mom in New Orleans. “I feel like it’s my responsibility to be here as an African-American man,” he said. “I feel like I’m here for people who can’t be here, not just in my family but folks who don’t have the means to get here.”

Ellie Moyer was 25 in 1963. At 4 a.m. on Aug. 28, 2013, she boarded a bus in the East Village to go to Washington. “I had numerous friends that were black and very dear to me, and this is what I believed in,” she said. “I remember getting rocks thrown at us on the bus and we couldn’t stop and use the bathrooms anywhere.”

Check back in this post for updates on this afternoon’s speeches from the Lincoln Memorial. In the meantime, make sure to watch King’s original speech.