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Journal Entry

March on merchandising along the Mall

Inherent inequities of American capitalism and democracy – chiefly the capacity of people to discriminate against others in hiring, housing, education and elections – led to the 1963 March on Washington.

Fifty years later, civil rights merchants were cashing in.

The 50th Anniversary March on Washington on Saturday must have been a bonanza for T-shirt printing companies. Tens of thousands of people took part in the demonstration on the National Mall, with many wearing their hearts on their torsos, if not their sleeves.

Logos and slogans identified participants’ affiliations and sentiments. Marchers clustered in like-minded and -clothed groups, creating color swatches along the Reflecting Pool.

About 100 members of United Auto Workers Local 2209, the bargaining unit at the General Motors Truck Assembly plant in southwest Allen County, wore red T-shirts with “Realize the Dream” and Martin Luther King Jr.’s image printed in black on the front and the union emblem on the back. As the autoworkers waited to board charter buses that would take them from a Capitol Hill hotel to the National Mall, two men approached on the sidewalk, each carrying a bundle of T-shirts priced at $10 apiece.

“50th Anniversary March on Washington: I Was There” was the message on shirts that one man hawked. His colleague’s garments pleaded: “Justice for Trayvon … or ‘Just Us’ for Trayvon.” Images of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer whom a jury acquitted, permeated the anniversary march.

“Black Power” T-shirts were available from one vendor for $15. Another vendor pitched subscriptions to the Militant, a socialist newspaper. Still another handed out materials promoting a sale on posters, postcards, notecards and shirts declaring “Rosa Sat, Martin Walked, Barack Ran.”

And on the walk from the Lincoln Memorial to the King Memorial, at the edge of a grassy expanse, was perhaps the most curious commercialization of the civil rights movement in 2013: the Golden Arches. McDonald’s had sponsored a “reconnection station,” a shade tent for resting marchers and lost-and-found items, families and friends.

Brian Francisco is The Journal Gazette’s Washington editor.