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2020 March On Washington On The 57th Anniversary Of MLK Jr.'s 'I Have A Dream' Speech

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The March on Washington in person and online gets underway on the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech. Organizers say the current protest movement over police violence and criminal justice spurred on this 2020 march. NPR's Cheryl Corley talked to Chicagoans who plan to join the march from home.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: In 1963, more than 200,000 demonstrators showed up for what was billed as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Freedom, freedom, freedom.

CORLEY: Chicagoan Willie Stovall (ph) didn't get a chance to participate.

WILLIE STOVALL: In the original march in '63, I was only 15. And you know, you got to obey your parents, so I couldn't go.

CORLEY: Stovall stood outside the district office of Illinois Congressman Danny Davis, talking with him and staffer Tumia Romero about the upcoming March. Stovall says since the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Bill were a product of the '63 march, he was excited when he learned Davis plan to take several busloads of people to DC for the 2020 march, a march spearheaded by Al Sharpton's National Action Network and a number of partners, including the NAACP.

TUMIA ROMERO: He was the first one to sign up online. He was the first one on the Internet.

STOVALL: Yep. When I saw it, I just couldn't turn it down.

CORLEY: COVID-19 concerns sidelined the bus trip. Stovall will attend the march virtually and hear speakers including Martin Luther King III and family members of people whose death spurred massive protests - George Floyd, Eric Garner and others. Congressman Davis was 22 during the historic march.

DANNY DAVIS: There was so much excitement and fervor in the air.

CORLEY: Davis says that was true even though he didn't go to D.C. The focus then was on civil rights and jobs. And Davis says, nearly 60 years later, there's still an urgent need for jobs and opportunity.

DAVIS: Economics are worse for many African Americans now when businesses were flourishing. But I think every demonstration - we do them with the idea that change is going to come.

CORLEY: Davis staffer Tumia Romero wasn't alive in 1963 but says she learned at a young age about the march and the King's speech. She says all the turmoil this year, including the police killing of Breonna Taylor and just this week the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., makes the 2020 march sadly relevant.

ROMERO: People still want to have a dream that they can walk down the street and not be shot in the back. That's what we still hoping for.

CORLEY: The official name of Friday's gathering is called the Get Your Knees Off Our Necks Commitment March, a direct reference to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. The focus is on the criminal justice system and on support for a voting rights measure renamed for the late Congressman John Lewis, who was a student leader and a speaker at the 1963 march. Carl Ellis (ph), a vice president of the NAACP's West Side Chapter in Chicago, will join the 2020 version virtually.

CARL ELLIS: My question is, when isn't it time for a march? I mean, we're still fighting the same battles that our brothers and sisters 50 years ago were fighting for what was happening with the police, what's happening in society in general.

CORLEY: In 1963, A. Philip Randolph, the trailblazing activist behind the march, seemed to recognize what future activists might feel. In his speech, he called the march the first wave of the civil rights revolution. He said demonstrators would return to Washington in ever-growing numbers until there was total freedom. Decades later, it's a promise that marchers say they must keep.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.