Tens of thousands of marchers kicked off the 50th anniversary commemorations in Washington of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream'' speech.
The event on Saturday was the precursor to the actual anniversary of the march. On the day of the anniversary, Wednesday, March 28, President Barack Obama will speak from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the same place King stood when he delivered his speech.
On Saturday, Eric Holder, the nation's first black Attorney General, thanked those who marched a half century earlier. He said he would not be in office, nor would Obama be president, without them.
"They marched in spite of animosity, oppression and brutality because they believed in the greatness of what this nation could become and despaired of the founding promises not kept,'' Holder said.
Holder said the spirit of the 1963 march now demands equality for gays, Latinos, women, the disabled and others. Keeping with that theme, those in attendance represented a number of causes advocating gay rights, organised labour, voting rights, and even access to local post offices.
Many speakers cited persistent unemployment among African-Americans, which is about double that of white Americans.
Others spoke of the Florida shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman, who argued self-defence.
"It's very difficult to stomach the fact that Trayvon wasn't committing any crime. He was on his way home from the store,'' Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon's mother, said as she prepared to participate in the march.
On the day of the anniversary, Obama will be joined by former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Churches and groups have been asked to ring bells at 3pm, marking the exact time King spoke.
On Friday, a coalition of black leaders issued what they said is the 21st century agenda for the nation. They named economic parity, equity in education, voting rights, health care access and criminal justice reform as
national policy priorities.