“It’s an opportunity today to recall where we once were in this nation,” Winfrey said, noting that Martin Luther King forced America “to wake up, look at itself and eventually change.”
As a park ranger held an umbrella for the rain on the D.C. afternoon, Winfrey recalled that when she was 9 years old, “I asked my mama, ‘Can I go to the march?’ It took me 50 years, but I’m here.”
In a brief appearance before the crowd, Foxx said, “All the entertainers, it is time for us to stand up now and renew this dream,” even naming Will Smith, Jay Z, Kerry Washington, Kanye West and others as actors and performers who should lead a call to action. Diverting from his prepared remarks, Foxx cited the Trayvon Martin case as well as the Newtown massacre as giving him inspiration to speak out.
The presence of Foxx and other celebrities, on the bill with civil rights leaders like Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and President Obama recalled the delegation of Hollywood figures who attended the march in 1963, organized by Harry Belafonte and including Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, Burt Lancaster and Sidney Poitier. Foxx talked of a dinner he had with Belafonte and, impersonating the singer, being moved by his stories of returning home from World War II and being unable to vote.
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Other speakers sought to strike notes of inspiration, repeating some of the mantras of the civil rights movement along with notes of self empowerment. Winfrey said that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Whitaker, who with Winfrey stars in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” said, “Recognize the hero that exists inside yourself. We are all committing small acts of heroism.”
Rimes sang “Amazing Grace,” while other aspects of the event recalled signature moments of the 1963 march. Bebe Winans sang “He’s got the Whole World in His Hands,” sung by Marian Anderson in the same spot 50 years ago.
Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey, the surviving members of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, returned to the Memorial to sing “Blowin in the Wind,” just as they did with the late Mary Travers a half-century ago. They gave the protest song a current resonance: This time, they were joined by Trayvon Martin’s parents.