For a lot of the people who joined Al Sharpton’s Reclaim the Dream rally and march, it was their first opportunity to experience something close to what people saw and felt when they marched in Selma, Ala., or sat in at Greensboro, N.C.
As the marchers made their way from Washington’s Paul Laurence Dunbar High School — the first public high school for African Americans in the country — to the National Mall and the future site of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, more and more supporters for conservative Fox News TV host Glenn Beck and backers of the conservative Tea Party watched from the sidewalks. Some wore T-shirts reading “Restoring Honor,” the name of the Glenn Beck event that took place the same day.
The scene under the white-hot sun was surreal as the Glenn Beck and Tea Party supporters made two-fingered peace signs at the Reclaim the Dream marchers and sometimes offered a high-fisted show of purported support or even applauded. Organizers of Beck’s event had advised participants not to start anything. Sharpton, president of the National Action Network and organizer of Reclaim the Dream, had done the same. But still, the feeling that oozed psychically from the conservative onlookers was anything but friendly. Many held up video cameras or shot pictures. Others looked on silently and smile-free.
Gwen Wardell-O’Neal of Hamilton, N.J., said she was happy that people who don’t agree with other Americans can have such beliefs but not act on them. Regarding Saturday, Wardell-O’Neal, 58, said, “Even though there wasn’t physical violence, there was a certain look.”
Harry Johnson said he was happy the potential clash did not happen. Johnson is heading up the fundraising effort to open the King memorial on the Mall in the fall of 2011. King was a convener of the march and delivered his seminal “I Have a Dream” speech there. “Dr. King really stood for everybody,” said Johnson, whose buildthedream.org fundraising effort is now $13 million from its $120 million goal.
King was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, as is Johnson. The fraternity launched the movement to build the memorial on a four-acre site. “Dr. King was a person who fought a war without any weapons, and his weapon was non-violence,” Johnson said.