Questions concerning what the Washington Post described as a "second, smaller" August 28 march to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington have been circulating, especially since it was announced that President Obama would be speaking at a separate event later that day. The organizer of that march is Van Henri White, an attorney and school board official in Rochester, N.Y., and the founder of the Center for the Study of Civil and Human Rights Laws.
White has not only scheduled an August 28 march–The March for Jobs and Justice– but a civil rights conference on August 27 that costs $25 for students and $50 for others to attend. Both events, he says, will be led by veterans of the 1963 march and the civil rights movement in general.
As we’ve reported, some people are confusing White’s march with the August 24 National Action to Realize the Dream March, which was planned by the National Action Network, the family of Martin Luther King Jr. and a coalition of civil rights groups. That group of organizers, formally known as the 50th Anniversary Coalition for the March on Washington, is also responsible for the bell-ringing ceremony on August 28 that will feature President Obama. Neither White’s march nor his conference is connected to this coalition.
White said in an interview this morning that he did not intend to confuse people. But an examination of his website and his event-planning suggests that he’s created a shadow march and conference.
Trademarks and Merchandise
White said he began planning his march last year, "before anyone was even thinking about the 50th anniversary." On June 28, 2012, he filed for a trademark copyright protection of a logo that bears the original insignia of the 1963 march, but with the words "50th Anniversary of the March on Washington August 28, 2013" encircling it. It’s "bridging the old with the new," said White, who is selling buttons (five for $4) and T-shirts ($16.99 and $18.99) with the logo on his website. Also for sale on the site is a commemorative 2013 calendar ($20) and book ($16.99).
Logo of the 1963 March on Washington
White told me he learned that the original 1963 march logo was not copyright-protected and that was part of the reason why he decided to trademark his own. He says he was also motivated by his father, whom he wanted to honor for participating in the 1963 march.
According to the filing, White’s trademark was for "a product and service related to Educational [sic] kit comprising DVDs featuring secondary level curriculum on all scientific disciplines, along with teacher guides, sold as a unit."
Those products include books, training manuals and other materials related to civil rights history. White didn’t complete the trademark process but said "there is still a window open" for him to do so.
Familiar Search Terms and a "Hairspray" Bus
White’s website, 50thanniversarymarchonwashington.com, is among the first results I obtained when I Googled using search terms contained in his web address. According to White, the site has been overwhelmed with traffic and has even crashed recently. But he said he did not intentionally name his website to take advantage of what is known as search engine optimization, a technique that elevates websites to the top of Google searches for increased traffic.
In our interview, White vehemently denied any charges that he’s trying to confuse people. He said he wants to help people learn about the history that made the 1963 March on Washington possible. Part of that effort meant purchasing and restoring a 1950s-era bus used in the John Travolta musical movie "Hairspray" and converting it into what he calls a civil rights museum on wheels. He said people will be able to board the bus on August 28 to watch the original speakers of the 1963 march.
At the time of our interview, however, White said he was waiting for final permission from the U.S. National Parks Service to bring the bus to the Lincoln Memorial where his march will end. The bus will be parked there during Freedom Festival activities sponsored by the official 50th Anniversary Coalition for the March on Washington.
Confused Commenters and Unconnected Trips
On one of his news pages "August 28, 2013 March to Culminate in Speech by President Obama," White posted:
Citizens marching in the August 28, 2013 will experience a special moment in history after the August 28, 2013 March concludes on the National Mall. Today it was announced that President Barack Obama has chosen to speak to the nation on August 28, 2013 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. This will make the August 28, 2013 "March for Jobs and Justice" extra special.
Commenters on the page complained they were confused about the timing and the date of White’s march. One such commenter wrote, "are there actually two separate marches? One on the 24th and one on the 28th???" Another said that President Obama’s speech "seems to conflict with the current schedule for the day’s March here on the website."
White does have language scattered throughout the site that attempts to dispel that confusion. But when you visit the "Planning Your Trip To The March" page, the site lists a number of buses for groups traveling to Washington, D.C., from around the country. All of the trips are for August 23 or 24, which dovetails with the larger march held by the 50th anniversary committee.
I contacted three of those trips’ coordinators and none had any information about White’s August 28 march. All were working with or were somehow affiliated with Sharpton’s National Action Network and were clear that they were coming in for the August 24 march, exclusively.
Conference at a Cost
According to White, his August 27 conference "is where the answers to the problems brought up at the march will come from people working in the field." He said it was originally scheduled to take place at Howard University but then he was told that the institution couldn’t accommodate the event.
Asked how many were registered for the conference, he said "well in excess of 150 people," but later placed the number at 175. Speakers and panelists were asked to cover their own travel and costs to participate. "People are flying in on their own dime because of what our civil rights leaders did here 50 years ago," White said. One panelist I spoke with who did not want to be identified said she was pulling out of the conference because she hadn’t received clear instructions. She still thought the event was taking place at Howard and was under the impression that the conference was free.
White told me that the conference fees will cover the cost of space, food and drinks for attendees, and to recover some of the money he spent on his civil rights bus. He said he’s not profiting from the events.
According to his website, veterans of the civil rights movement will lead the march, but he refused to name them. The civil rights bus will roll ahead of those veterans, he said, if he can get permission from the National Parks Service in the next few days. I spoke with one of the agency’s press officers who said they would have to research if a permit for the bus exists.
Asked if he was concerned that he might get sued for his efforts, especially since he himself is a lawyer, White said, "It’s the price to be paid for doing the right thing. I’m doing this to bring to light the contributions of people like Dr. King and Rosa Parks. If that brings some lawsuit on me that’s the price to pay. I think I’m doing what Rosa Parks or Dr. King would have wanted me to do."