Mary Thomas stood in the misty rain on Wednesday morning clutching a tattered, 50-year-old copy of Life Magazine that chronicled the first March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
“My picture is in here, which was taken at the reflecting pool in 1963,” Thomas said, holding up the Sept. 6, 1963, edition bearing the words "In Color: SPECTACLE of the MARCH” written across the cover in front of a picture of the Lincoln Memorial.
Thomas lived in Savannah, Ga., in the early 1960s, she said, and was arrested after participating in a sit-in protest at a restaurant that refused to serve black customers. Fifty years ago, she was here in Washington, D.C., marching to the Lincoln Memorial to hear the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. call for action on civil rights. Now, she is back in the nation’s capital with tens of thousands of others who on Wednesday gathered to commemorate the anniversary of King’s famous rally.
On Wednesday morning, a few thousand marchers gathered near the Capitol Building to begin a two-mile walk across the city to the memorial, where they would join thousands more to hear Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, speak that afternoon.
The first row of the morning march was reserved for those who attended the original rally a half-century earlier, including Thomas and Don Birts, who was 27 at the time.
At 9 a.m. they lined up near Capitol Hill and began their walk. Those attending the commemoration rally did not exclusively emphasize a call for better treatment of black Americans. Marchers carried signs for a variety of causes, including calls for legalized same-sex marriage; drug and immigration reform; D.C. statehood; and legislation to improve job growth. The mood was celebratory and jovial, and marchers joined together in the streets singing “This Little Light of Mine” and “We Shall Overcome.”
Although Wednesday’s rally was meant as a time to commemorate past battles, it also focused on a need to continue the effort.
“We still have a lot of work to be done,” Thomas said, recalling why she returned to Washington after all these years. “Jobs, voting rights, education and the whole gamut. We were working on them in ’63, and we are still working on it.”