([UPDATED10:04] August 24, 2013) Final preparations were underway for the March on Washington 2013 at about 7:30 a.m. on Aug. 24, as more than 3,000 people and several dozen members of the media made their way to the Lincoln Memorial, where some of the nation’s preeminent civil rights leaders were expected to take the stage later in the morning.
The event was scheduled to include a pre-march rally and was expected to kick off with a prayer service at 8 a.m. At 9 a.m., several speakers were expected to begin making short tributes from the dais, paying tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights icon who delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in the same location on Aug. 28, 1963. A second March on Washington 2013 celebration is set to take place in four days later, 50 years to the day that the first march occurred.
Scheduled to speak at a segment of the program beginning at 11 a.m. were the Rev. Al Sharpton, one of the event’s organizers; Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of civil rights martyr Medgar Evers; and Martin Luther King, III, one of four children of the slain civil rights leader.
King arrived at 7:38 a.m. with his entourage, taking his place among millions worldwide who will honor his father in the coming week and beyond.
William O. Ritchie of Fort Washington, a retired law enforcement official, said he was only 13 and growing up in West Virginia when Dr. King took to the microphone in 1963 and made history. He did not attend the march then but was on the Mall this time. He, like others who arrived early, said he wanted to witness history.
“Unfortunately, in the hills of West Virginia, you didn’t get the type of reporting then as you do now, so I wanted to make sure I had a presence here today, just like I did for the Million Man March,” Richie said. “I wanted to be part of the remembrance for such an historic event.”
Despite a chill hanging in the air due to temperatures hovering just over 60 degrees, enthusiasm was already palpable. People at the site carried signs with slogans in support of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. Others waved sorority and fraternity flags and American flags.
At 7:30 a.m., organizers were still setting up chairs for a VIP section. Fencing had been placed around the Reflecting Pool near the base of the Lincoln Memorial and dozens of police officers stood in the rally site, some flanking the fencing, others guarding the entry points.
Pedestrian traffic was picking up along local roadways. There were some closures, including parts of Independence Avenue, Constitution Avenue and Rock Creek Parkway near the event site. Memorial Bridge was also closed.
Organizers were urging people who were planning to attend to take the Metro. Stops within walking distance to the Lincoln Memorial include the Smithsonian, Farragut West, Farragut North, Foggy Bottom and Arlington National Cemetery stations. Shuttles were being provided for those who have mobility challenges.
As 8 a.m. approached, microphone checks were being conducted as the first part of the program was scheduled to begin in only minutes. A Jumbotron had been set up behind the dias to display images to the thousands expected to make their way to the event.
Temperatures were expected to be pleasant, hovering near the mid 80s, though forecasters said there was a slight chance for clouds and rain later in the day.
Tucked behind the giant screen sat the Abraham Lincoln statue, as he had 50 years ago, looming high over history.