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August 29, 2013

People Remember Historic 1963 March on Washington

by Chris Simkins

Fifty years ago, civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led a march that changed the lives of all Americans. On August 28, 1963, King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech to a crowd of more than 250,000 people in Washington. The event turned out to be a watershed moment in American history.

Tens of thousands gathered around the Lincoln Memorial to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic 1963 March on Washington on Wednesday.

The 1963 demonstration led by Martin Luther King Jr. came at a time of great racial unrest, as the country sought to end long entrenched laws that discriminated against African Americans.

Five decades later, Pat Newton from Maryland returned to march again. Newton remembers the power King's 'I Have a Dream' speech had in propelling equal opportunities for African Americans.

"The 'I Have a Dream' speech really did something to me as I grew older. Because of the things that they [civil rights demonstrators] did I was able to get a job in the White House. I would have never been able to do that coming directly out of high school. Because of the roads that they paved, we were able to do a lot more," said Newton.

Many of the people who attended the original march in 1963 returned to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool to commemorate a great moment in American history.

Martin Mcadoo from North Carolina was 19 years old when he came to Washington in support of equal rights for African Americans.

"We were basically following a movement, but we never knew that particular event in the movement would have had the historical value that it turned out to have," he said.

Rowland Scherman was the government's (USIA) primary photographer for the March on Washington. He took thousands of photographs capturing a big part of American history.

"It seemed as though the stories was in the faces. You can see the reaction and the emotions of the people," he recalls.  

One of Scherman's photos captures 12-year-old Edith Lee-Payne. Her picture became an iconic image of the demonstration.

"Part of panning through that crowd there was this one, and she was so pretty and she was so interested. I was just drawn to her. I am really proud of that picture and it is being used all over the place," he said.

Lee-Payne returned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the march after meeting photographer Scherman for the first time.

"That was a wonderful experience to see the man behind the camera that saw my face and captured what I was feeling without knowing what I was feeling," she said.

Scherman's photographs were locked away at the National Archives. But thanks to a television documentary called "Eye on the Sixties" by filmmaker Chris Szwedo, many of Scherman's photographs are being seen for the first time.

The photo has made Edith Lee-Payne a celebrity among those who attended the first march. Her memories of that day remain strong.

"I applauded now more in retrospect the people that stood here 50 years ago of all races, creeds and colors, knowing that what was happening in the South wasn't right even though it wasn't happening to them. There were many people who joined and we couldn't tell one from the other," she added.

Some of those who attended the 1963 march and returned for the 50th anniversary said they are determined to keep King's dream of racial equality alive and do what they can in their own communities to bring about positive change.