Rights march set for tomorrow in D.C.

August 27, 1993|By Nelson Schwartz | Nelson Schwartz,Contributing Writer

WASHINGTON -- The agenda is bigger, but the crowds probably will be smaller at tomorrow's march commemorating the day three decades ago when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of his dream of an America where people "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Many objectives of the 1963 march for civil rights have been met -- voting rights, an end to government-enforced segregation, national legislation protecting the rights of blacks -- but rally organizers say they hope this year's march will spark a revival of activity for the rights movement rather than just a celebration of past victories.

Already, march planners have had to cope with reports of internal squabbling and lukewarm interest on the part of participants. More over, there is fear that as the agenda has expanded some of the focus that brought marchers together 30 years ago has been lost.

"We don't have the same sense of passion, the same sense of urgency," said John Lewis, a 1963 march organizer who now is a Democratic congressman from Atlanta. Back then, some civil rights activists had just been released from Southern jails and others who were still imprisoned were very much on the mind of demonstrators, he recalled.

"There is a sense of hopelessness about the future today," adds Walter E. Fauntroy, national organizer of this year's march and a planner of the 1963 rally.

That wasn't the case in 1963, both Mr. Fauntroy and Mr. Lewis said. "We're in a different time now," conceded Mr. Lewis.

This new era, they said, calls for a reworking of the old civil rights program to make way for new issues, such as health care, jobs and the rights of the elderly. "The agenda is much more economic now than it was then," said Mr. Lewis. "It is about class as well as race."

The spectrum of groups tomorrow will be broader than it was in 1963, with representatives expected from gay organizations, the American Association of Retired Persons, and environmental groups.

One labor representative questioned whether so many different concerns could fit under one roof. "I hope they haven't bitten off more than they can chew," he said. "They should stick to the basics and not get lost in a hundred other areas."

Despite the new participants, the total numbers aren't expected to be near the quarter-million who lined the Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial and listened to Dr. King's words. The 20th anniversary march, in 1983, also drew a crowd estimated at 250,000.

Mr. Fauntroy, trying to avoid raising unrealistic hopes, predicts that the number of marchers will be at least in the tens of thousands.

If turnout is poor, part of the explanation will be that planning for the anniversary protest began only in April. By contrast, 1963's march was a year in the making.

Another key difference between then and now will be the role of the president. Shortly before the rally in 1963, President John F. Kennedy met with Dr. King, black labor leader A. Philip Randolph and others.

But this year, President Clinton is vacationing and doesn't have plans to meet with rally backers. Mr. Fauntroy stopped short of criticizing Mr. Clinton, although he charged that the president's agenda from last year's campaign had been "hijacked by moneyed interests."

"It would have been helpful to meet with the heads of this broad coalition," said Mr. Fauntroy. "We thought we were close to what he was elected on."

MARCH DETAILS

WHAT: 30th Anniversary Civil Rights March for Jobs, Justice and Peace

WHERE: Washington, D.C.

WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 28

Assembly for the march begins at the Washington Monument at 10 a.m. At noon, the crowd begins walking toward the Lincoln Memorial, past the Reflecting Pool on the Mall. There will be speakers and entertainment in the morning, with the stage at 17th and Independence Ave. N.W.

Beginning at 2 p.m., more speakers are scheduled to address the crowd from the Lincoln Memorial, including the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson; the rally's organizer and the former Washington, D.C. delegate to Congress, Walter E. Fauntroy; Maryland's Democratic Rep. Kweisi Mfume; and Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund.

Free parking is available at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington and in the Pentagon parking lot in Virginia. If you use Washington's Metro system, the closest stop is the Smithsonian station on the Mall.

Cool clothing is advisable; temperatures in the mid-90s are expected.

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