The families of those affected by racial violence in the U.S. banded together on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Friday, the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington, encouraging thousands of fellow marchers to carry forward the goals of their predecessors.
At the event, organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s activist group National Action Network and dubbed the march to “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks,” the brothers, sisters and parents of men and women whose deaths and injuries have created national headlines spoke emotionally at times. They urged rally-goers not to have let their loved ones die in vain.
Thousands clustered at the site of the 1963 march wearing face masks that at once represented the cause that had brought them there and served as a reminder of the coronavirus pandemic that is disproportionately taking the lives of Black Americans.
At one point, Sharpton urged attendees to spread out more, despite the widespread prevalance of masks in the crowd.
The brother of George Floyd, the Minneapolis man who was suffocated to death by police in late May, had to pause repeatedly to gather himself as he told the crowd that “I wish George were here to see this right now.”
As Philonise Floyd spoke, he was surrounded by other family members wearing t-shirts and face masks bearing “8:46,” representing the number of minutes and seconds former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was recorded with his knee on Floyd’s neck.
“If it weren’t for y’all, I don’t know where I’d be right now, because y’all are keeping me running,” Floyd said Friday, adding that he felt compelled to “advocate for everyone” after his brother’s death and calling the police shooting of Jacob Blake, another unarmed Black man, this week “painful.”
Bridgett Floyd, George’s sister, invoked Martin Luther King, Jr. on the 57th anniversary of his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech in the same spot, as she pledged to use her brother’s memory to fulfill King’s famed dream of racial justice.
“My brother cannot be a voice today,” Floyd said, urging fellow marchers to work together to achieve change. “We have to be that voice. We have to be the change. And we have to be his legacy.”
She also challenged attendees to critically examine their own legacies during a time of racial reckoning in the United States not seen since the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
“I want you guys to ask yourself right now: How would the history books remember you? What would be your legacy?” she asked. “Will your future generations remember you for your complacency, your inaction? Or would they remember you for your empathy, your leadership, your passion for weeding out the injustices and evil in our world?”
Other speakers, like the mother of Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed earlier this year when police burst into her apartment as she slept, urged protesters to vote.
The sister of Blake, who was shot seven times in the back on Sunday by a Kenosha, Wis., police officer, spoke forcefully as she declared the notion that America is not home to systemic racism a fallacy.
“America, your reality is not real,” Letetra Widman said. “Catering to your delusions is no longer an option. We will not pretend. We will not be your docile slave, we will not be your footstool to oppression.”
But Widman also denounced violence that has broken out throughout the week in the name of her brother, challenging Black Americans to “fight, but not with violence and chaos. With self love.”