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Leaders Rally Marchers With Moving Speeches

Marchers at the National Mall (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Marchers at the National Mall (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Update: Saturday, August 24, 1:34 p.m. EDT: 

Rep. John Lewis, (D-Ga.), the only surviving speaker from the march in 1963, and Cory Booker, the 44-year-old mayor of Newark, N.J., and Democratic candidate for Senate, also spoke to the crowd at the National Mall, USA Today reports.

"We cannot give up. We cannot give out. And we cannot give in," Lewis said to cheering throngs. Although he acknowledged that the brutal days of civil right struggles are now gone, he said the push for a more perfect America remains. "We must get out there and push and pull," he said.

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Cory Booker:

"Me and my generation cannot now afford to sit back consuming all of our blessings, getting dumb, fat and happy thinking we have achieved our freedoms," said Booker.

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Earlier:

Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder were among the leaders who kicked off Saturday's rally, giving moving speeches before throngs of marchers who began arriving at the National Mall at the break of dawn. Both stressed the importance of continuing the fight for jobs, civil rights and racial equality.

"Fired up," an energized Jealous said, taking the podium as the crowd echoed his rallying call. "Ready to go. Fired up. Ready to go. When they say, no, you can't, we say, yes, we can. When they say, no, you can't pass a real racial profiling ban with teeth. We say, yes, we can, because, yes, we did two days ago in New York City.

"When they say, no, you can't pass the DREAM Act, no, you can't pass marriage equality, no, you can't abolish the death penalty, no, you can't expand voting rights in any state south of the Mason Dixon, we say, yes, we can, because, yes, we did just five miles from here in Maryland last year."

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U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder followed him a few moments later.

"Fifty years ago, Dr. King shared his dream with the world and described visions for a society that offered and delivered the promise of equal justice under law," he said. "He assured his fellow citizens that his goals were within reach so long as they kept faith with one another and maintained the courage and the commitment to work toward it. And he urged them to do just that by calling for no more and no less than equal justice. By standing up for the civil rights to which everyone is entitled and by speaking up in the face of hatred, violence in defiance of those who sought to turn them back with fire hoses, bullets and bombs."

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The Associated Press reports that marchers began arriving early Saturday to gather on the National Mall to stake out their spots.

The NAACP passed out signs reminiscent of the 1963 event expressing reasons for the march five decades later: "We March To Protect Voting Rights," proclaimed one of the placards.

Organizers have planned for about 100,000 people to participate in the event, which is the precursor to the actual anniversary of the Aug. 28, 1963, march. It will be led by the Rev. Al Sharpton and King's son Martin Luther King III. After several speeches, participants will walk the half-mile from the Lincoln Memorial to the 2-year-old memorial.

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Read more at the Associated Press.

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