With Pride and Hand Sanitizer, Washington to Stand Up for Anniversary of King’s March

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., fourth from left, foreground, locks arms with his aides as he leads a march of several thousands to the court house in Montgomery, Ala., on March 17, 1965. From left are: an unidentified woman, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, James Foreman, King, Jesse Douglas Sr., and John Lewis, the now recently deceased congressman. (AP Photo/File)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The first attempt on Martin King Jr.’s life came in September of 1958. King was in New York City promoting his novel “Stride Toward Freedom” — a firsthand account of the living conditions of African Americans in Alabama — when he was stabbed with a steel letter opener by Izola Curry, a schizophrenic woman suffering from delusions prior to the assault.

The attack left King inches from death, the point piercing his sternum, just an inch from his aorta. In October, when a civil rights demonstration was planned for the third anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, King’s wife, Coretta Scott, stepped in to deliver his remarks instead. 

On Friday, for the 57th anniversary of King’s March on Washington, like Coretta Scott before them, the mothers, fathers and children of Black Americans whose lives were violently interrupted at best or ended outright will come to the nation’s capital to step in and speak up for those who can no longer speak for themselves.  

With a program convened by Martin Luther King Jr.’s son, Martin Luther King III, and the Reverend Al Sharpton through Sharpton’s National Action Network, speeches will unfold from the Lincoln Memorial where some 50,000 marchers are expected. Attendance was expected to be double that amount although planned before George Floyd’s funeral in June and an outbreak of novel coronavirus. 

Sharpton and King will speak on the Lincoln Memorial steps along with family members of Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner and George Floyd. Texas Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green will also give remarks — along with Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney representing the Floyd family and other police-brutality victims. 

In an interview ahead of Friday’s march, Green reflected on what he called his “preeminent privilege” to introduce the son of the late civil rights icon, an opportunity he said he did not expect. 

“Martin Luther King III, a keynote speaker at the march, is a person who has kept the dream alive and all of us are keeping it alive. But he is a person who is expected to keep the dream alive,” Green said. “My thoughts have been about his father and what his father came to Washington for and demanded 57 years ago. Now, we have his son, standing there in Washington, D.C., making demands. That says that, although a lot has changed and we do have to respect the change that has taken place, some things remain the same.”

This year’s commemoration not only honors King’s seminal 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, an oratory that roused the national consciousness to the plight of Black Americans living under Jim Crow laws and other forms of institutionalized white supremacy. But it comes after months of sustained protests around the nation and in Washington, where a diverse array of humanity has demanded justice for Black lives in a movement long simmering yet nationally reignited after the killing of George Floyd.

Three months ago, the now-fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds until Floyd died of suffocation after multiple pleas for his life.  

Photo of George Floyd provided by Christopher Harris.

The visceral witness the world paid to Floyd’s death as the recording was shared through social media, and the outrage and eventual reflection it spurred, will underlie much of Friday’s proceedings. 

This week, a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, over the police killing of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, turned violent when Kyle Rittenhouse, a white 17-year-old, drove from Peoria, Illinois, with a loaded AR-15 to defend property. It was a few hours later when he would shoot three protesters, killing two, Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum. 

President Donald Trump deployed federal troops to Kenosha and with approval of Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers. The White House has premised its assistance on the need to install “law and order.”  

Green, with more than 25 years in the legal profession, said he and Trump have very different definitions of law and order. 

“So the president really believes in order and law, not law and order. Law and order means that you provide the order within the framework that the law has already established,” Green said. “The president makes up the rules as he goes against the needs of those who would give him order first and then law.”

Formally called the “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” march, the event is held in conjunction with the NAACP, the Urban League and other civil rights groups. An organized march moves through downtown Washington to the Lincoln Memorial, ending at the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial where speakers will include activists from the district, including Kenethia Alston, mother of Marqueese Alston who was killed by D.C. police in 2018, and student government representatives of the historic black college Howard University.

Due to Covid-19, this year’s event mandates face masks for participants and requires marchers to maintain social distancing. Much like protests in the early summer where impromptu hand-sanitizing stations, medical aid and free food and water sprouted up regularly thanks to conscientious rally goers, official organizers of Friday’s march have committed to providing the same amenities.  

“There is a desire seen in this country for justice that is being requested, desired, because people desire justice, but now we’re seeing people demand it,” Green said. 

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