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Crowd Amped Up For March On Washington Commemoration


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm David Greene. Good morning.

Fifty years ago today, more than a quarter million Americans stepped out of chartered buses, trains and cars and marched towards the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. This morning, thousands have come again to the nation's capital to retrace those steps and commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for jobs and freedom.

President Obama will be among the speakers who will take the podium later today, in the same spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. declared his dream of equality in 1963. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang is at the Lincoln Memorial, where ceremonies are getting underway, and he's on the line with us. Hansi, good morning.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So what are you seeing there? What's the scene at the memorial?

WANG: Well, things are just getting underway, ceremonies here, and the crowd is gathering. And it's raining, a little bit of drizzle, but the crowd is amped up and ready for a big event today. This is, obviously, the official anniversary of this March on Washington.

GREENE: Who's there? Who's braving the rain?

WANG: Well, you've got people really from all over the country. I stopped by a march that happened just a few blocks away from the National Mall earlier this morning. I talked to a number of folks, and they came because they wanted to really be part of this official commemoration. And also, they wanted to also bring up their own issues, from marriage equality for LGBT community, to jobs, and from voting rights. That was another issue.

GREENE: And what are people saying was the reason they came out? Was it for modern-day issues? Was it to look back at history? What are they telling you?

WANG: Well, it's modern-day issues, and also, I think, people also have history on their minds. They want to be part of that history, 50 years later. I talked to one person. Her name's Alison Nist(ph), a doctor from Fort Myers Beach, Florida. Here's what she said.

ALLISON NIST: We want to honor everything that's occurred and that we've built so far in the last 50 years, but then move on for the next 50.

WANG: I also talked to a younger person, a young black man named Vernon Kent(ph), 27, from Baltimore. And he really had on his mind that pioneer generation during the civil rights movement. Here's what he told me.

VERNON KENT: People died for our rights and died for us to be able to sit - be sitting here right now and doing what we're doing. So, you know, a lot of this doesn't happen with this time and this era, with this generation. We don't do this type of stuff. So I feel like it's definitely needed, for us to pass it down to our children and children's children here.

GREENE: So, who is this young man Vernon with? Who did he come with?

WANG: He came with a friend. They were sitting on the steps, right where Georgetown University Law School, right where the march is about to start.

GREENE: Hansi, you were at other commemoration events, an event this past weekend at the Lincoln Memorial, as part of this whole anniversary. Is there something special about today? Is there a different feel?

WANG: Well, a number of people told me that you really want to be on the day. This is the day of the official anniversary. Fifty years ago today was when, you know, more than a quarter of a million people came to Washington, D.C. and were a part of this. So they wanted to be a part of it 50 years later, and it's really special because of that, a lot of people told me.

GREENE: So, Hansi, President Obama is the headliner, I mean, speaking in quite a moment in the very spot where Martin Luther King Jr. gave that "I Have a Dream" speech. Who else are we hearing from today?

WANG: Well, we're expecting to hear from a large lineup of speakers, you know, from Oprah. Also scheduled to speak is actor Jamie Foxx. And we're also going to hear from Caroline Kennedy, whose father, of course, President John F. Kennedy, was president when this march occurred 50 years ago.

Another speaker that I think to watch out for on the lineup is Myrlie Evers-Williams. Her - she's the widow of the slain civil rights activist, Medgar Evers. And she was scheduled to speak, one of the very few women scheduled to speak during the original ceremony 50 years ago. She missed her chance because she was stuck in traffic. So this will be a very poignant moment for her, I think.

And also scheduled, of course, are three presidents: President Carter, President Clinton, and the one everyone's waiting for, President Barack Obama.

GREENE: It's quite a lineup of voices. How's the weather holding up? Is the rain holding up so far?

WANG: It's a steady drizzle, and I hope it's that and not thunderstorms.

GREENE: We hope so. Hansi, thanks a lot.

WANG: Thank you.

GREENE: NPR's Hansi Lo Wang. He's at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., where the 50th anniversary commemoration of the March on Washington is getting underway. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
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