INDIANAPOLIS | Thousands of Americans will converge on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., starting Saturday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, including a host of local residents and leaders.
The event is aimed at taking the next steps toward liberty and equality for all, some attending the event said.
Martin Luther King Jr. rallied the assembled masses Aug. 28, 1963, with his now legendary "I Have A Dream" speech.
This time, amid a week of events, proclamations, memories and calls to action, Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter will stand Wednesday on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and lead a nationwide ringing of bells at 2 p.m. region time, marking a half-century to the minute when King's speech began.
Among the inspired are a bus load, several van loads and dozens of others from Northwest Indiana traveling to Washington for the festivities taking place just steps from where the nation's first black president was sworn-in for a second term seven months ago.
Joan Chumley, a Michigan City NAACP activist, is riding to Washington on a chartered bus that left Gary on Friday afternoon. They're driving through the night, participating in Saturday's anniversary march and are due to return to the region Sunday morning.
"I saw the first speech on TV when I was a young teenager, and I wouldn't miss this," Chumley said.
While she believes much progress has been made in America since 1963, Chumley said many of the same issues that held back minorities then are still with us — unreasonable voting restrictions, the lack of high-quality jobs, racially biased crimes and an indifferent federal government.
"Dr. King taught us that we can impact change nonviolently if we band together, and one of the biggest tools utilized by those that wish to continue discriminating is divide-and-conquer," she said. "So this march will demonstrate ... that we are banding together to work for equality, to work for jobs, to have our legislators work in unity like we are."
The chairman of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, state Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, isn't traveling to Washington for the anniversary march. But he also recalls watching King's original speech on television.
"It was a very memorable, mesmerizing experience for me," Randolph said. "I'll never forget it because I cried at the end of his speech. It had so much truth to it."
Randolph said race didn't matter much to the mixed group of friends he had as a child in East Chicago.
But he said as he grew older and saw black teens getting beaten by police and was gawked at while attending college in rural northern Michigan, those experiences inspired him to become a lawyer and legislator.
He said racism isn't as embedded in the law as it was in King's day, when interracial marriage was still illegal in many states.
But the march toward equality for all still has many steps left to take and roadblocks to shove out of the way, Randolph said.
"In order for this country to move forward and progress, these extreme people like that have to be voted out of office, have to be removed," Randolph said. "Otherwise we're going to be in these crisis situations ... where a few prevent the mass from going forward."