Saturday’s 50th anniversary march to mark the 1963 March on Washington will focus on problems plaguing specifically African Americans, but also on other topics such as immigration and voting rights.
Speakers scheduled to address the march include immigration advocacy leaders and an undocumented immigrant brought to the United States as a minor, organizers said.
“The 1963 March on Washington. . .was the single most transformative demonstration of the 20th Century, leading to the passage of civil rights legislation that helped shape our 21st Century democracy,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, one of the groups coordinating the march. “And 50 years later, an even broader coalition is coming together to improve our democracy once again by helping to pass, among several priorities, a critical comprehensive immigration reform bill."
“Broken immigration laws are corroding our democracy and damaging our economy by forcing 11 million immigrants to live in the shadows,” said Henderson, who took part in a conference call earlier this week with immigrant rights leaders to speak about the march.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez , a Democrat from Illinois who has been one of Congress’ most vocal proponents of a pathway to legalization for undocumented immigrants, said that the 1963 march and the civil rights struggles of African Americans had benefited Latinos, including himself.
"Quite simply, without the march and the movement, there is no Voting Rights Act, and with no Voting Rights Act, there is no majority Latino district carved out in Chicago in 1990," he said. "I wouldn't be on this call as Rep. Luis Gutierrez."
Among those speaking at the march will be Janet Murguia, president of National Council of La Raza, the nation's oldest Latino civil rights group.
Next week, President Obama, a living symbol of the racial progress Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed about, will stand near the spot where King stood 50 years ago and say where he believes this nation should be headed.
As civil rights activists pause to consider the great strides toward equality that the 1963 March on Washington helped to spur, they also look at the current political and racial landscape, and wonder: How much of that progress is now being undone?
The march anniversary comes just weeks before members of Congress are to return from summer recess to tackle such things as immigration.
The Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration measure in June that would, among other things, tighten border security and provide a path to legal status for many of the nation’s undocumented immigrants.
But the measure has stalled in the House, where Republicans hold a majority and many of the GOP’s most conservative members refuse to pass anything resembling the Senate bill. Some of the most staunch opponents of the Senate bill say that will not support a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants, a move they see as amnesty.
But those who support a path to legal status say the United States cannot track down and deport millions of undocumented immigrants, and that something must be done to bring them out of the shadows.
“Fear of deportation among long-term residents has a toxic effect on the rights of us all,” said Henderson, of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “When immigrants are afraid to report abuses in the workplace, the interests of all workers are undermined. And we know all too well that when our legal system tolerates the perpetuation of a modern-day caste system, democracy itself is compromised.”
This march anniversary also comes just two months after the Supreme Court effectively erased a key anti-discrimination provision of the Voting Rights Act, unleashing a string of restrictive voting laws and rules in several states. The court also raised the bar for consideration of race in university admissions, and made it more difficult to bring employment discrimination lawsuits.
There are other new issues, such as demands for a federal civil rights prosecution of George Zimmerman for fatally shooting unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin, and abiding ones, such as persistent unemployment among black Americans that runs at a significantly higher rate than that for whites.
"A convergence of things have happened that have exposed ... the fact that we are in a pretty important moment, kind of a democratic crossroads in this country," said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. "Crossroads or not, you have to continue the work of pushing forward."
The observances begin Saturday with a march from the Lincoln Memorial to the King Memorial, led by the Rev. Al Sharpton and King's son, Martin Luther King III. They will be joined by the parents of Trayvon Martin, and family members of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who was kidnapped, beaten and shot in the head in 1955 after he was accused of flirting with a white woman.
Sharpton has refused to call Saturday's march a commemoration or a celebration. He says it is meant to protest "the continuing issues that have stood in the way" of fulfilling King's dream. Martin's and Till's families, he said, symbolize the effects that laws such as the stop-and-frisk tactics by New York police, and Florida's Stand Your Ground statute have in black and Latino communities.
"To just celebrate Dr. King's dream would give the false implication that we believe his dream has been fully achieved and we do not believe that," Sharpton said. "We believe we've made a lot of progress toward his dream, but we do not believe we've arrived there yet."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente