President Barack Obama addressed crowds gathered in Washington on Wednesday to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1963 civil rights march on the US capital led by Rev Martin Luther King Jr.
The president was one of 50 speakers at the event which took place at the Lincoln Memorial, the site of his renowned “I have a dream” speech, with politicians, celebrities, preachers and performers also taking to the stage.
President Obama’s speech recalled that on August 28, 1963, King “offered a salvation path for oppressed and oppressors alike. His words belong to the ages, possessing a power and prophecy unmatched in our time”.
But, Obama added, the day also belonged to “ordinary people whose names never appeared in the history books, never got on TV. Many had gone to segregated schools and sat at segregated lunch counters. They lived in towns where they couldn’t vote and cities where their votes didn’t matter. They were couples in love who couldn’t marry, soldiers who fought for freedom abroad that they found denied to them at home. They had seen loved ones beaten, and children fire-hosed, and they had every reason to lash out in anger, or resign themselves to a bitter fate.”
King’s daughter, Rev Bernice King, the CEO of the King Centre for Nonviolent Social Change, also spoke at the event. Quoting her mother, Rev. King said: “the struggle for freedom is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won, you win it and earn it in every generation.”
Unlike the 1963 event, there was no high-profile presence of Catholic clergy on the stage. Then-Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle of Washington, a civil rights promoter in his own right, led off the formal programme event with a prayer for the nation and its people: “Let us understand that simple justice demands that the rights of all be honoured by every man”.
Current Washington archbishop, Cardinal Donald W Wuerl, participated in a morning interfaith prayer service related to the anniversary, but the clergy on the programme at the Lincoln Memorial were all Protestants, including the Rev Al Sharpton, performer Rev Wintley Phipps, the Rev Roslyn Brock, who chairs the NAACP, and civil rights leader the Rev Joseph Lowery.