54 years after “I have a dream,” marchers return to Washington to protest white supremacy

On Monday, the 54th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, religious leaders marched from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial to the Justice Department to protest the policies of the Trump administration.
On Monday, the 54th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, religious leaders marched from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial to the Justice Department to protest the policies of the Trump administration. McClatchyDC

On the 54th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, religious leaders and political activists staged separate marches here and in Charlottesville to call for many of the same things Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. had championed in his famous "I Have a Dream” speech.

In the nation's capital on Monday, a multicultural group of religious leaders led by the Rev. Al Sharpton joined several thousand participants in a 1.8 mile march from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial to the U.S. Justice Department to protest the words and actions of President Donald Trump.

The "One Thousand Ministers March for Justice" event, organized by Sharpton's National Action Network, featured speeches by Jewish, Catholic, Pentecostal, Baptist and Muslim religious leaders, including Rev. Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of the slain civil rights' icon.

And in Charlottesville, the site of a recent white nationalist rally that left one woman dead, civil rights activists embarked on a 10-day "March to Confront White Supremacy" that will conclude on Sept. 6 in Washington, D.C.

"If ever there was a time to stand up for justice, that time is now," King III told the crowd in front of the Justice Department. "Now is the time for every man and woman to stand up for rightuousness, to stand up for fairness, to stand up for peace."

While Trump boasts the support of the white evangelical religious community, many leaders of other faiths have loudly protested his statements and actions. Since Inauguration Day, Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders have spoken against Trump’s attempted ban on immigration and travel from Muslim-majority nations, his decision to pull out of a global environmental pact, and the ban he has imposed on transgender people serving in the military.

But Trump’s response to the deadly neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville — specifically his statement that people who showed up to protest white supremacy shared some of the blame for the violence — animated this group of faith leaders like nothing else could.

Rev. Daryl G. Bloodsaw, pastor of First Baptist Church in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, said if Rev. King were alive today, he'd be proud that people are continuing to fight for change, "but I think his heart would be broken that we're singing the same song, fighting the same evils."

It was August 28, 1963 that King led the seminal "March on Washington" over the objections of President John F. Kennedy, who feared the event would lead to widespread racial violence only miles from the White House.

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Speaking at Monday's march in DC, Rev. Jesse Jackson recalled that in 1963, the nation's capitol "was under military occupation that day because of unfounded fears of the march. There was a strong military presence at the train stations, bus stations, airports, all entrances into DC," as 250,000 people converged on the city.

Most blacks couldn't even use public restrooms and the hotels wouldn't accomodate them, Jackson said. Many participants stayed with local black families who agreed to house them.

"A lot, that day, we didn't have," Jackson recalled. "But one thing we did have was a surplus of courage. And we were awake."

Jackson expressed dismay at Trump's behavior, saying: "We deserve better than this....It's not enough to reject Trump's tweets, we must reject Trump's point of view."

Bloodsaw said he never imagined that more than half a decade after the the 1963 march, he would be protesting injustice and white supremacy in the nation's capitol.

"It took the inflammatory language of the president of the United States to really stoke the fires of our protest imagination," Bloodsaw said. So we've come here to speak to him, to speak to the (Justice Department) and to even speak to ourselves, to say that we've been asleep too long. We turned a blind eye to too much."

As the crowd marched past the Trump Hotel, many chanted "Donald Trump has to go," and "Tear it down."

King III said it wasn't Charlottesville that prompted Monday's march. Sharpton, he said, organized the event several months earlier because he felt it was important for religious leaders to speak out about the policies taking shape under the Trump administration.

"We're here because citizens are losing confidence, trust and hope in our democracy," King declared. "This is a moral march. It is a march for American values and in my father's words, "it's a march for a revolution of values.'''

The Charlottesville-to-DC march has established a Crowdfunding page, which has raised just over $30,000 of their $100,000 goal.

Organizers of that march say white supremacists have been increasingly vocal, and violence, since Trump entered politics, and that racial tension reached a boiling point in Charlottesville. That’s where a rally to oppose the removal of a confederate war memorial descended into chaos after a suspected white nationalist drove a car into a crowd of protestors, killing a woman.

"This is the time to confront white supremacy in our government and throughout our history," the march organizers' website reads. "We demand that President Trump be removed from office for allying himself with this ideology of hate and we demand an agenda that repairs the damage it's done to our country and its people."