Washington: Next week, the first black US president, a living symbol of the racial progress civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr dreamed about, will stand near the spot where King stood 50 years ago and say where he believes the nation should be headed.
Then, like King, President Barack Obama will step away from the hulking Lincoln Memorial, and return to where this nation is now.
As civil rights activists pause to consider the great strides toward equality that the 1963 March on Washington helped to spur, they also look at the current political and racial landscape, and wonder: How much of that progress is now being undone?
This march anniversary comes just two months after the Supreme Court effectively erased a key anti-discrimination provision of the Voting Rights Act, unleashing a string of restrictive voting laws and rules in several states. The court also raised the bar for consideration of race in university admissions, and made it more difficult to bring employment discrimination lawsuits.
There are other new issues, such as demands for a federal civil rights prosecution of George Zimmerman for fatally shooting unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin, and abiding ones, such as persistent unemployment among black Americans that runs at a significantly higher rate than that for whites.
"A convergence of things have happened that have exposed ... The fact that we are in a pretty important moment, kind of a democratic crossroads in this country," said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. "Crossroads or not, you have to continue the work of pushing forward." NAACP stands for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a name the group dropped in favour of keeping the initials.
The observances begin Saturday with a march from the Lincoln Memorial to the King Memorial, led by the civil right activist Rev Al Sharpton and King`s son, Martin Luther King III. They will be joined by the parents of Trayvon Martin, and family members of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who was kidnapped, beaten and shot in the head in 1955 after he was accused of flirting with a white woman.