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Washington Beat: More Than 100,000 Expected To Commemorate March On Washington Saturday

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On Saturday, more than 100,000 people are expected to gather in the nation's capital to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, during which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his now iconic "I Have a Dream" speech. Washington bureau reporter Geoff Bennett filed the following report.

Around the Lincoln Memorial, preparations are underway to mark 50 years since a key turning point in the civil rights movement.

On August 28, 1963, 250,000 people peacefully protested for equality, justice and jobs. It was the largest demonstration ever seen in the nation's capital.

"In 1963, as this march kind of is being conceived, it's important to remember that this was a very tense period," said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Tensions were heightened that summer by efforts to combat segregation in the city of Birmingham, Alabama.

"So to the extent that it brought the older generation with the new generation, the young activist with the old, those who were using the insider method to those who were using the outside activism method, it was an extraordinary moment and a bit of a nerve-wracking moment," Ifill said. "Because the question was, 'Will this hold? Will this all hold together?' And of course, as we all know, it did hold together in a kind of glorious expression of Democratic appeal."

Fifty years ago, demonstrators marched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. On Saturday, they'll retrace the route, but they will pass by the memorial built to honor Martin Luther King Jr. this time.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, whose National Action Network is co-sponsoring Saturday's march, is quick to point out this event is not a march of remembrance.

"It is the intent of those that come together to make it clear that this is not just a nostalgic visit, that this is not a commemoration but a continuation and a call to action," Sharpton said.

A call to action, Sharpton said, around issues like jobs and the economy, controversial Stand Your Ground laws and voting rights.

"We're really at a key pivotal moment in which we are suggesting we've made progress, we've got to hold that progress, but we've really got to push forward," Ifill said.

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