Even though it occurred as a national event, District residents were a major element in the 57th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom Aug 28, with many expressing strong views on the killing and shooting by law enforcement of unarmed African Americans.
According to WTOP, thousands of people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial and National Mall area to participate in the march and members of the D.C. Democratic Party counted in those numbers. The small D.C. Democratic contingent walked from the meeting point, the Albert Einstein Memorial, to the National Mall to hear the speakers and ultimately make their way to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the march’s terminus. Claire Goldberg, an active District Democrat, said attending the march became a priority for her.
“The shooting and killing of Black men haven’t stopped,” Goldberg, 23, said. “I have attended protests since the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and I was going to make an effort to attend this march, especially in light of what happened to Jacob Blake in Kenosha. If we are going to put a stop to these killings, we have to keep coming out and protesting until things change. We should be out here everyday protesting what is wrong.”
A few feet away from the D.C. Democrats stood Karl Griffin and a few of his Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity brothers. Griffin said he and his fraternal kin came to the march to address broken promises made to African Americans throughout the years regarding civil rights and fair treatment.
“We as Black people have had to endure years of years of tyranny,” Griffin, 25, said. “Our people have never been treated right. I am proud to say I am part of the Black Lives Matter movement to address these wrongs. Being a part of the movement is a positive and beautiful thing.”
Goldberg and Griffin listened to the program emceed by District native the Rev. Mark Thompson and led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, founder of the National Action Network. District officials such as D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton relayed her thoughts on the march through a statement. Norton served as a staffer during the 1963 march and noted the gathering “paved the way for civil rights legislative victories to come.”
“Today’s march shows the continuing strength of peaceful protest as a tool to bring about change,” the delegate said. “Out of the 1963 march came the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and ultimately the 1968 Fair Housing Act. I was among those who marched for Congress to bring change then, as a member of Congress now I will take today’s march as a mandate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, during a news briefing on Aug. 26, said she wouldn’t be a speaker at the march and discouraged District residents from attending mainly out of concern for the coronavirus pandemic. She did encourage residents to watch the program digitally or on television and urged those who choose to attend to wear masks and practice social distancing.
Both Norton and Bowser are champions of D.C. statehood and the cause didn’t receive mention by the major speakers but Adan Garcia, who sported a “51st State” T-shirt, appeared not to be concerned.
“D.C. statehood not being mentioned hasn’t bothered me,” Garcia, 29, said. “I think this march is addressing something bigger which is unarmed Black men being killed by the police around the country.”
Quenessa Long, a first-year student at the Howard University School of Law, agreed with Garcia that police killings have become a major issue.
“This is a pivotal moment in this day and age,” Long, 24, said. “This police brutality has to stop. That is why we are coming together.”