News & Politics

Rain and Slow Security Don’t Keep People From Marking 50th Anniversary of March on Washington

Even with a painfully slow security perimeter and inclement weather, tens of thousands of people flocked to the Mall for the anniversary of Martin Luther King's landmark speech.

Photograph by Chris Campbell.

At the ceremony commemorating 50 years since the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. told the world he had a dream, the expanse at the base of the Lincoln Memorial was still filling in around 1 PM, with thousands waiting to process through a slow-moving security bottleneck.

Close to a chain link fence erected along 17th St., a small group of grumbling attendees, led by one with a megaphone, chanted “Open the gate!” People trickled through the perimeter at a painfully slow pace.

But while some groused about trying to make it through a too-small corral of metal detectors, plenty were content to stand back on the hill in front of the Washington Monument and take it in from afar. Jewell Smith, 82, stood under an umbrella watching the anniversary of the march in which he participated as a young man 50 years ago.

Smith said there is “no comparison” between 1963’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and today’s event, but he still took it in earnestly. “It was nothing like this,” Smith said, looking out at the sparsely filled area around the Reflecting Pool. “People were coming from north, south, east, west. It was exciting.”

On Aug. 28, 1963, Smith recalled, he got a half day from his government job. He walked to the Mall from Rock Creek Church Rd. and Ushur St., NW, in Petworth, to the Mall that day.

Unlike that “beautiful” day, today’s ceremony came under overcast skies that finally opened up in the early afternoon. But it did little to thin the crowd.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.