By Rachel Nostrant
(Reuters) – Thousands of Americans will converge on Washington on Saturday to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, a pivotal event in the 1960s U.S. civil rights movement at which Martin Luther King Jr gave his galvanizing “I have a dream” speech.
The 1963 march brought more than 250,000 people to the nation’s capital to push for an end to discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Many credit the show of strength with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other civil rights groups, this year’s march takes place at the Lincoln Memorial, the backdrop to King’s impassioned call for equality.
Kimberle Crenshaw, executive director of the African American Policy Forum, said the anniversary takes place at a troubling moment for the country.
“The very history that the march is commemorating is being not only challenged but distorted,” Crenshaw said, referring to bans in several states on books and classroom instruction based on so-called critical race theory, which views a legacy of racism as shaping American history.
She called that and other moves such as the removal of an African American Studies course from public schools in Florida and Arkansas a “concerted effort to silence conversation about that history.”
Opponents of CRT say it distorts history and is needlessly divisive and upsetting for students.
Speakers at Saturday’s march will include civil rights leaders such as the Reverend Al Sharpton, King’s son Martin Luther King III, his granddaughter Yolanda Renee King and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.
In terms of the goals envisioned in King’s “dream,” the country has come a long way since 1963, said Jonathan Greenblatt, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, which played a role in the campaign for the Civil Rights Act’s enactment.
But, he said, recent Supreme Court rulings setting back affirmative action and access to abortion were a cause for concern.
“We’ve seen an expansion of antisemitism, we’ve seen an intensification of racism,” said Greenblatt, who is also scheduled to speak on Saturday.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday will meet with march organizers at the White House to mark the 1963 meeting between organizers of the original march and the administration of President John F. Kennedy.
The rally will include many young people who traveled from around the country.
Chanelle Johnson, vice chair of the National Council of Negro Women’s Youth and Collegiate Affairs, said involving the younger generation was important.
“Learning is seeing all the things that some of the older generations went through to get to this point,” Johnson said. “They said it back then, and they’re saying it now: the fight is not over after today or after this march.”