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March on Washington anniversary to bring together three US presidents

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Jose Luis Magana/AP

(Read caption) Dorothy Meekins holds up the national flag with the picture of President Obama as she attends the rally, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Saturday, Aug. 24.

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Three presidents and scores of stars will gather at the Lincoln Memorial Wednesday to close the commemorative ceremonies marking Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington.

The 50th anniversary celebration – dubbed “Let Freedom Ring” – wraps a week-long series of local prayer services, a youth leadership training seminar, a round table about women of the movement, and discussions on poverty and economic empowerment, among other events.

So much has changed since that day – perhaps most obviously in modern times, the nation elected its first African-American president in 2008 – but for many involved in the cause of civil rights in this country, there is more to do. The wattage of notables set to turn out is not just a tribute to the nonviolent movement that King helped spawn as well as to his personal legacy, but also a reminder, many believe, of the work that remains.

President Obama, who will headline the final event, will be joined by former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Oprah Winfrey and the actors Jamie Foxx and Forest Whitaker will participate. Soledad O’Brien and Hill Harper will host, and Rep. John Lewis (D) of Georgia, who spoke at the 1963 King rally, will address those gathered.

Many forget that the original march focused on jobs and economic parity as much as on equal rights, former NAACP chairman Julian Bond told USA Today. Mr. Bond, 23 years old at the time, delivered speech texts to journalists and sodas to celebrities, including Sammy Davis Jr. He tells Susan Page, the paper’s Washington bureau chief, that King’s speech helped shepherd into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The march, peaceful as it was, was one happening in an ongoing conversation about why black unemployment is higher than white unemployment and why housing is segregated in some communities, Bond says.

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