League member Kathy Scruggs at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington

Last week, the League of Women Voters joined fellow civil rights groups and activists from across the country in gathering at the Lincoln Memorial for the 50th anniversary celebration of the 1963 March on Washington. The anniversary, which took place just months after the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965, brought thousands to the nation’s capital, many of whom retraced the steps of the 1963 march while carrying signs denouncing the widespread attacks on voting rights sweeping the country: "The new Jim Crow must go!" and "50 years later still fighting to vote!” 

The attention on voting rights continued Wednesday, when politicians, civil rights leaders and celebrities gathered for the commemorative “Let Freedom Ring!” ceremony, organized by the 50th Anniversary Coalition for Jobs, Justice and Freedom. We were especially honored to sit behind a Texas woman who had attended the original 1963 march, and we were pleased to see League member Kathy Scruggs of Maryland, who had also courageously marched for justice in 1963. 

march on washington voting rights

The mood at Wednesday’s ceremony was reflective and full of hope – even despite the rain that persisted off-and-on throughout the nearly five hours of speakers and performances. A common thread was woven through the many speeches: While we look back on the hard-won victories of the civil rights movement, we must realize that the fight for justice still continues today. As Martin Luther King famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Speaker after speaker called for the urgent need to continue Martin Luther King’s fight for equality and stop the onslaught of attacks on voting rights. From the words of Lynda Johnson Robbs, daughter of President Lyndon B. Johnson, to former President Bill Clinton, the crowd was reminded of the blood, sweat and tears that went into the civil rights movement. 

Here’s a rundown on some of the many calls to protect voting rights from speakers throughout the week of activities honoring this historic event.  

  • “Almost 50 years ago, I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama, for the right to vote. I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us. … You must get out there and push and pull and make America what America should be for all of us. We must say to the Congress, ‘Fix the Voting Rights Act!” – Rep. John Lewis 
     
  •  “I believe we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to the new I.D. requirements to exclude certain voters, especially African Americans…[and] how Dr. King would have reacted to the Supreme Court striking down a crucial part of the Voting Rights Act just recently passed overwhelmingly by Congress. …There’s a tremendous agenda ahead of us, and I’m thankful to Martin Luther King Jr. that his dream is still alive.” – President Jimmy Carter
     
  • “This morning, we affirm that this struggle must, and will, go on in the cause of our nation’s quest for justice – until every eligible American has the chance to exercise his or her right to vote, unencumbered by discriminatory or unneeded procedures, rules, or practices.” – Attorney General Eric Holder
     
  • "We cannot be discouraged by a Supreme Court decision that said we don't need this critical provision of the Voting Rights Act. A great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon.” – President Bill Clinton
     
  • "There are no white sheets, but there are judges in black robes in the U.S. Supreme Court who struck down Section IV of the Voting Rights Act, opening the floodgates in many states to pass more voter I.D. laws to block people of color and young people from voting...” – Melanie Campbell, President, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation
     
  • “We come as the children of Dr. King to say we are going to face Jim Crow's children -- Jim Crow had a son called James Crow, Jr., Esquire. He writes voting suppression laws and puts it in language that looks different but the results are the same.” – Rev. Al Sharpton

Organizers of the 1963 march realized that "Change does not come from Washington but to Washington," said President Obama, the final speaker at Wednesday’s commemorative event. “The March on Washington teaches us that we are not trapped by the mistakes of history; that we are masters of our fate. But it also teaches us that the promise of this nation will only be kept when we work together.”

President Obama’s words remind us that in order to continue the fight for Martin Luther King’s dream of justice for all Americans, we must join together in challenging all signs of discrimination. As we continue to face attacks on voting rights across the country, join the League in calling on Congress to take immediate action to protect our voting rights.

Check out our Facebook albums from the 50th Anniversary Commemorative March on Washington and the “Let Freedom Ring!” anniversary ceremony.