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Thousands Plan March on D.C. To Retrace March Into History

By DeNeen L. Brown
The Washington Post


Russell Williams rode all night from New York to get to the 1963 civil rights March on Washington. He would like to tell people now that he was there, that when Martin Luther King Jr. told a quarter of a million marchers, "I have a dream," he heard it and wept.

But when King rose on that hot August afternoon to give the speech of the century, Williams was in the bathroom.

"Sometimes I have this practical mind. I thought, `This speech I can read. Everybody will be listening to it,'" Williams said. "Now is my chance to go."

Thirty years later, he regrets not waiting.

Williams, now a 50-year-old schoolteacher who lives in Hagerstown, Md., plans to be among the thousands who are expected to return to the Lincoln Memorial Saturday to mark the 30th anniversary of the march. Out of a sense of "reunion, a sense of history," he will return with the poster he carried in 1963.

The official commemoration begins today with a People's University on the Mall, a `60s-style teach-in with sessions on racism and other topics. The march will start at noon tomorrow from the Washington Monument to trace the steps of those earlier marchers to the Lincoln Memorial.

This time, the rallying cry is "Jobs, Justice and Peace," not just for blacks but for Latinos, Asians, women, American Indians, homosexuals and laborers, to name only several of the 500 interest groups sponsoring the event. Participants in the first march recall a more basic demand: equal rights and jobs for blacks.

On Wednesday, Aug. 28, 1963, people poured into the city by foot, car, bus and train. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom would be the biggest demonstration the city had ever seen. That was evident from the traffic-clogged highways and from out-of-towners telephoning District relatives and friends to find a place to rest after the march.

Williams remembers that buses coming from New York, Philadelphia and other northern cities were parked on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, waiting their turn to inch into the city. When his bus finally arrived at the Mall, "I got out and started counting buses. I got up to about 1,000. There were buses everywhere."

Williams started toward the Lincoln Memorial to get as close to the stage as he could. He hung his sign -- "Higher Minimum Wages, Coverage for All Workers" -- around his neck with string: "They had told us not to use wood because wood could be used as a weapon, and we didn't want to be arrested carrying a weapon around," he recalled.

But despite warnings that the march might explode into violence, many people who were there remember the unbelievable calm that swept over the city and the pains people took to be polite.