By Donna Leinwand, Alistair Barr and Greg Toppo, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - As she inched toward the security checkpoint that wouldallow her to bask in the words of three presidents Wednesday afternoon,Toni Asante Lightfoot said, "It could be much worse."
Waiting morethan an hour seemed a small price to pay, considering what people hadto go through the first time around: Half a century ago, anAfrican-American woman traveling to Washington had to carefully plot aroute that would include places that would allow her to eat, sleep andeven use a bathroom. "When we put everything in historical perspective,this is just an inconvenience," said Asante Lightfoot, 45.
After 90 minutes, she was in and heading toward the Lincoln Memorial, "just so doggone glad to be here."
Fiftyyears to the day after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered hisspellbinding "I Have a Dream" speech, Asante Lightfoot stood among alarge crowd that braved rain on the National Mall to hear civil rights,labor and political leaders and entertainers urge them - sometimesdefiantly - to keep fighting for justice and equal rights.
Thistime around, jobs and voting rights for African Americans shared thespotlight with fights for clean water and air, a living wage, civilrights for gays and lesbians, and an end to homelessness andstop-and-frisk policing policies. President Obama headlined the eventand gave an impassioned speech.
King's daughter, the Rev.Bernice King, noted that at the 1963 march, there was "not a singlewoman on the program." "We have witnessed great strides toward freedom,"she said, but "we must keep the sound and the message of freedom andjustice going."
Earlier, Al Sharpton told the crowd that Jim Crow"had a son named James Crow Jr., Esq. He writes voting-suppressionlaws." Likewise, National Urban League President Marc Morial said, "Itis time, America, to wake up. Fifty years ago that sleeping giant wasawakened, but somewhere along the way we've dozed. We've been quelled bythe lullaby of false prosperity and the mirage of economic equality. Wefell into a slumber. Somewhere along the way, white sheets were tradedfor button-down white shirts. Attack dogs and water hoses were tradedfor Tasers and widespread implementation of stop-and-frisk policies."
Thecrowd appeared much smaller than the estimated 200,000 who jammed themall in 1963 at a tumultuous time in U.S. history, an era of separatebathrooms, lunch counters and drinking fountains for whites and blacks,of authorities using billy clubs, firehoses and police dogs to terrorizecivil rights marchers in the South, and of murders of activists intheir driveways and little girls in church.
The 1963 march focusedon what Andrew Young, a close associate of King's and later Atlantamayor, called "the triple evils of racism, war and poverty." Young saidKing's speech focused mostly on poverty. "He said that the Constitutionwas a promissory note to which all of us would fall heir, but that whenmen and women of color presented their check at the Bank of Justice, itcame back marked 'insufficient funds.'
"Fifty years later," Youngconcluded, "we're still here trying to cash that bad check. Fifty yearslater, we're still dealing with all kinds of problems, and so we're nothere to claim any victory - we're here to simply say that the strugglecontinues."
As King was ending his speech in 1963, he quoted from the patriotic song My Country 'Tis of Thee and urged his audience to "let freedom ring."
"Whenwe allow freedom to ring - when we let it ring from every city andevery hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speedup that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jewsand Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands andsing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last, free atlast, great God almighty, we are free at last,'" King said.
The civil rights leader was assassinated five years later.