A Tale of Two (or Three) Marches in Washington, D.C.

Sorting out the events honoring the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington

By Brentin Mock Aug 21, 2013

Some may be confused about the spate of events happening over the next seven days, all sharing some version of the label "50th anniversay of the 1963 March on Washington." We know that there is a massive march this Saturday through downtown Washington, D.C., that will feature civil rights activist and "Politics Nation" host Al Sharpton. But we also know that President Barack Obama is speaking at another event on Wednesday, Aug. 28, also honoring the 50th anniversary of the historic march. But which one is the official?

As it was explained to me by a spokesperson from the National Action Network, which is the lead convener for the Saturday event, "It’s like a birthday. You may have your birthday on a certain day and I may take you out to dinner on that day, but then someone else is having a party for you on another day."

The event this Saturday, officially billed the "50th Anniversary March on Washington Realize the Dream March & Rally," is the official march commemorating the 1963 massive demonstration that featured Martin Luther King, Jr.’s "I Have a Dream" speech. It is primarily coordinated by Sharpton’s National Action Network and Martin Luther King III. There are dozens of other partnering organizations involved, including the NAACP, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, National Urban League, SEIU, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. 

But it is one of a string of events over the next seven days that all fall under the The 50th Anniversary Coalition for Jobs, Justice and Freedom. The event held on August 28, which will close the seven-day commemoration, is the "Let Freedom Ring" bell-ringing ceremony to honor King. That event will feature an address from President Obama and speeches from former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. 

Other conferences, symposiums and gatherings held throughout the week can be found at MLK Dream 50

The 50th Anniversary Coalition hosting the full week of events includes the civil rights groups that organized the 1963 march: King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the NAACP, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, National Urban League, and King’s family. 

Other organizations in D.C. and around the nation are planning events that will honor the 1963 march, but there are some groups and websites that appear to have a dubious connection to the official events. 

The website 50th Anniversary March on Washington is promoting the August 28 event, but doesn’t seem to have any actual ties to the 50th Anniversary Coalition. The website’s owner is a Rochester, N.Y., lawyer named Van White who heads the Center for the Study of Civil and Human Rights Laws. It has information about an August 27 conference on civil rights and an online store where you can buy books, buttons, calendars and t-shirts that have images from the 1963 march. It even has a Twitter accout and Facebook page. 

But when I talked to media organizers of both the August 24 march and the August 28 event, no one knew who he was. 

"I have never heard of him, I don’t know anything about him," said Bunnie Jackson-Ransom, the press contact for the 50th Anniversary Coalition. 

Media reps from the National Action Network said they didn’t know who he was either. 

In a Washington Post article about this week’s events, White is attributed as an organizer of the August 28 event.

"I understand the symbolism of a march," said White in the article. "But if it’s just a march, and you’re not doing anything to rectify the problems, what’s the march for?"

No one answered when I made multiple calls to White’s law office, and emails to him have not been returned. 

More information on the Saturday, August 24 march can be found at the National Action Network’s website. The official Twitter and Facebook accounts of the 50th Anniversary Coalition can provide more information on this week’s full agenda.