Museums retrace March on Washington 50 years later

FILE - In this Feb. 2, 2005, file photo, a pedestrian makes his way past The International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, N.C. The center is located in the F.W. Woolworth building, birthplace of the Civil Rights movement where four freshmen from historically black North Carolina A&T State University sat at the store's whites-only lunch counter and requested service. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Numerous exhibits and programs in the nation's capital will allow visitors to retrace the historic steps of the 1963 March on Washington 50 years later.

Several museums and cultural organizations have organized artifacts and art exhibits for visitors to learn about the march, the nation's conflict over civil rights and the tumult leading up to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

At the Newseum, curators focused on the unique role of students in helping to lead the civil rights movement in the early 1960s. The museum about journalism and the First Amendment features a section of the original Woolworth's lunch counter from Greensboro, N.C., where four black college students launched a sit-in after being denied service because of their race.

A short video documentary highlights some of the key players and moments of the era.

"Unlike the Smithsonian or elsewhere, we are looking at history through the lens of the First Amendment," said Newseum video producer Frank Bond. That led curators beyond the role of journalists to also look at student leaders who fought for civil rights.

"The free press, yes, covered their exploits," Bond said. "But it was speech and assembly that they took upon themselves as constitutional rights to fight what they felt was an unjust system, which was the Jim Crow system of segregation."

At the time, John Lewis, now a Georgia congressman, told his fellow students they needed to be loud and visible to change the country. "You've got to get out there and push and organize and agitate and stand up and make some noise," he said, leading curators to the focus for the exhibit.

The Newseum also is launching a three-year changing exhibit called "Civil Rights at 50," which will be updated each year with key milestones in the civil rights movement. The year 1963 opened with Alabama Gov. George Wallace declaring "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." And that summer, he stood in a University of Alabama doorway to try to block two black students from attending class.

That was June. By August of that year, more than 200,000 people were marching on the National Mall, demanding justice, jobs and freedom.

The Newseum pulled together news coverage from the time. Much of the Northern press coverage was positive, curators noted, while Southern newspapers often disagreed with the march's mission. After the march, a Jackson Clarion-Ledger front-page headline declared: "Washington is Clean again with Negro Trash Removed."

Here are highlights from other programs and exhibits on view in Washington:

— National Museum of American History — The "Changing America" gallery explores the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, along with the March on Washington 100 years later. It includes artifacts and placards from the march. The museum also will host short performances near its display of part of the Greensboro, N.C., lunch counter, allowing visitors to take part in a training session for a sit-in based on a 1960s manual. On Aug. 28, the march anniversary, the museum will show footage of the historic march and host public programs to allow visitors to share their thoughts and memories.

— National Portrait Gallery — The new exhibit "One Life: Martin Luther King Jr." includes historic photographs, prints, paintings and memorabilia showing King's rise to prominence as a civil rights leader in the South, leading up to his memorable speech in Washington.

— Civil Rights Tour — The African American Civil War Museum has organized a tour of Washington's Civil War and Civil Rights sites to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the war and the 50th anniversary of the march. It includes a tour of U Street, once known as the "Black Broadway," and a stop at the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

— Library of Congress — The new exhibit "A Day Like No Other: Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington" opens Aug. 28 featuring 42 black-and-white images by photojournalists and people who participated in the march.

— National Museum of Women in the Arts — The exhibit "American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold's Paintings of the 1960s" explores this prominent black artist's portrayal of racial inequality in the 1960s.

— Washington National Cathedral — The National Cathedral will host a special forum on Aug. 25 featuring audio excerpts from King's last Sunday sermon delivered at the church in 1968. The cathedral and other churches also will ring their bells at the moment of King's "Dream" speech on Aug. 28 at 3 p.m. to honor the anniversary.


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