Students of Howard University march from campus to the Lincoln Memorial to participate in the Realize the Dream Rally for the fiftieth anniversary of the March in Washington, August 24, 2013 Reuters/James Lawler Duggan
There were marquee names like Eric Holder and great speeches by civil rights icons like Congressman John Lewis at the Lincoln Memorial. But the most important people at the rally and march commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington spoke earlier in the day, with little fanfare, when many had yet to arrive.
They included the likes of Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and leader of the state’s Moral Monday movement, and Philip Agnew, executive director of the Dream Defenders. These two groups, in particular, represent the new face of a twenty-first-century civil rights movement, one that is desperately needed to fight new battles in defense of issues like voting rights and racial justice. Barber represents the latest iteration of the Martin Luther King–inspired prophetic tradition; Agnew embodies the new activism of the hip-hop generation. (The Advancement Project, one of the most innovative civil rights organizations, has provided indispensable support to both groups.)
“We are the forgotten generation,” said Agnew, 28, early in the morning at the Lincoln Memorial, wearing the group’s trademark “Power” cap. “We are the illegals. We are the apathetic. We are the thugs. We are the generation that you locked in the basement while movement conversations were going on upstairs.”
Following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin on July 13, Agnew and other young Floridians held an impromptu sit-in at the Florida capital to protest the state’s Stand Your Ground law. It lasted thirty-one days and captured national attention, with visits from civil rights veterans like Jesse Jackson, Julian Bond and Harry Belafonte. Now the Dream Defenders have launched a new campaign to register 61,500 voters—the margin of victory for Florida Governor Rick Scott in 2010.