By Alecia Taylor
Black students from all over the nation gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to celebrate and continue marching for freedom and equal opportunities.
Thousands of people showed up Saturday morning to hear speakers honor the anniversary of the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. The 1963 march drew over a quarter of a million people from all over the nation, from different racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Many speakers such as King and John Lewis were scholars from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Echoing their predecessors, Black students attended the anniversary march to continue the legacy of those who stood as demonstrators 60 years before them.
Devonte King, a senior political science and economics double major at Howard University, attended the march with the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. Alpha Chapter. During the pandemic King attended rallies for Black Lives Matter, but he found himself soaking in the historical significance of this march in particular.
“I’ve never been to something of this magnitude before,” he said. “There’s so many people and the magnitude of the 60th anniversary is very historic.”
King reflected on his organization’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, spotlighting A. Philip Randolph, a labor activist who was also a Sigma. Randolph is credited by many as one of the predecessors of the mass demonstration that became the 1963 March on Washington.
Randolph was an advocate for ending employment discrimination as well as banning segregation within the armed forces. He founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925 to improve the working conditions for African-Americans working for the Pullman Company.
Some Phi Beta Sigma’s core values are brotherhood, scholarship and service, King said. Like many members of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, King and his brothers continue the fight for education and equal opportunities like the Civil Rights leaders who were also part of the council.
Divine Nine members could be seen throughout the crowd, with many of their presidents speaking on behalf of the individual Black fraternities and sororities.
The Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc, Beta Chapter at Howard University, in collaboration with the Collegiate 100 and the Howard NAACP, assisted with organizing for Howard students to attend the anniversary march. Other organizations such as the National Council of Negro Women Howard Section honored those who came before them and their contribution in the march 60 years ago.
Students from Florida chanted “No Justice, No peace!” along with speakers, citing Florida’s laws as anti-Black.
Safia Walker and Anylia Blue said they traveled with classmates from Florida State University not only to honor the anniversary of the March on Washington, but also “advocating for their rights.”
“We’re marching for the educational rights that were taken away from us by Ron DeSantis,” Blue said of Florida’s governor.
During the legislative session, DeSantis signed hundreds of bills pertaining to education, gender and sexuality, and immigration, causing push back from many marginalized groups. Among the bills the students mentioned were the Florida House Bill 1557, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill prohibiting public schools from instructing on gender and sexuality in grades kindergarten through third grade and the Florida Senate Bill 266, which prohibits public universities from spending state funding on diversity and inclusion programs.
Students from Florida A&M University, the state’s only public HBCU, were also came to Washington to make sure their voices were heard.
“We have a lot of stuff we’re fighting against,” Jovan Mitkens, a political science major at FAMU, said. “African-American studies is under attack, even LGBTQ [members] are under attack.”
As the president of FAMU College Democrats, Mitkens said his organization enforces education, engagement and empowerment by hosting panel discussions, registering people to vote and attending marches such as the one on the Lincoln Memorial.
Alyssa Gooby and Aniya Wright, students from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, drove over two hours to take part in what they referred to as a historic moment.
African-Americans have come a long way, Gooby said, “to be able to march here freely and be able to have so many different opportunities nowadays.”
The pair said they enjoyed being surrounded by the unity of the different students who came to the march. They were proud to hear some speakers address issues such as police brutality and mental health in the Black community, topics they feel were not previously talked about enough.
In total, Lincoln brought about 60 students by shuttle to partake in the march, according to the students.
Many marchers brought along their younger children, giving them signs and educating them on the history of discrimination in America.
Among the children were T’Kyrra Terrell, a 6-year-old who sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with her grandmother Malita Tyre. Tyre said her granddaughter has been attending marches since the age of 2; one of the more recent marches being in 2022 to commemorate civil rights activists who were beaten while marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, on Bloody Sunday in 1965.
Zion Douett, 17, and her brother, Samuel, 13, of New York City drove to the nation’s capital with their father James Douett. The two siblings said even if their father didn’t bring them to the march, they would still want to attend.
“Everybody needs their support; everyone needs their attention,” Samuel said.
His sister added their generation must start paying attention and collaborating with older generations.
“[My generation] will say something but they don’t always do something. They say, ‘Oh we should do this or do that’ but they really don’t do it,” Zion said. “How crazy the policies are getting … how strict everything is getting, we have to do something. We can start small.”
Alecia Taylor is a reporter for HUNewsService.com.