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The March on Washington: An Oral History

Aired August 23, 2013 - 22:00   ET



DEL. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), WASHINGTON, D.C.: The Kennedys were almost morbidly afraid of this march.

ROGER MUDD, CBS NEWS: They closed the bars. They put the National Guard on standby.

BAYARD RUSTIN, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: I was terrified that people weren't going to show up.

ROBERT AVERY, MARCH PARTICIPANT: They just come from all over the place, like somebody threw something into a bed of ants.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was the defining moment in American history.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just felt such a victory.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Half-a-century ago, nearly 250,000 people would stand here in front of the Lincoln Memorial, determined to awaken our nation to its often violent denial of basic human rights.

Long after the Civil War, we as a people remained divided by race, black or white, separate and unequal. Congress was resisting efforts to pass its first civil rights law since 1875. In many places, protesters were met by police brutality.

In the hour ahead, we will meet a number of those who were here, many of them young people , who would change the course of our nation's history.

The year was 1963.

GEORGE WALLACE, ALABAMA GOVERNOR: Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.

AVERY: First grade, maybe 5 or 6 years, when I probably realized that there were a difference, getting ready to drink out of a water fountain, because they had black and white, colored and white water fountains. REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: If you go downtown to the theater on a Saturday afternoon, all of us little black children had to go upstairs to the balcony.

CLARENCE JONES, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR MARTIN LUTHER KING: If you stopped at a gas station, they had a colored bathroom and a white bathroom. Otherwise, you couldn't go.

You saw police dogs, fire hoses attacking young black boys and girls who were peacefully demonstrating to end segregation.

AVERY: I knew that they were my age. That was what was terrifying.

JONES: Birmingham was like a spark that ignited a prairie fire of national protests.

AVERY: Here in Gaston, it was probably one of the worst places in the state of Alabama when it came down to police brutality. We were demonstrating and marching, protesting in front of the different stores here in town for the right to be served at the lunch counters.

They used cattle prods, if you know what a cattle prod is, on us here in Gaston. I still have burns and spots on my body today where they had stuck those cattle prods to me.

JOHN F. KENNEDY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city. Next week, I shall ask the Congress of the United States to act, to make a commitment that is not fully made in this century to the proposition that race has no place in American life or law.

LEWIS: In 1963, I was 23 years old. After I became the chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, I was invited to come to Washington, a meeting with President Kennedy.

Mr. Randolph spoke up, A. Philip Randolph, the dean of black leadership. In his baritone voice, he said, Mr. President, the black masses are restless, and we're going to march on Washington.

I think that was my first hearing of a proposed march on Washington. You can tell by the very body language of President Kennedy. He didn't have to say that many words, but he started moving and twisting in his chair. In his facial expression, he just thought it would be chaos.

MARC STEPP, UNITED AUTO WORKERS: Walter Reuther and Martin Luther King headed up the march along Woodward Avenue, the Main Street in Detroit, and Martin Luther King came here and delivered the speech.

KING: I have a dream this afternoon that one day...

STEPP: It was almost the same speech word for word that he later, in August, delivered in Washington.

KING: One day, little white children and little Negro children will be able to join hands as brothers and sisters. I have a dream this afternoon.

AVERY: Frank was 18. James was 17, and I had just turned 15 like 10 days earlier.

This particular Sunday, Frank was talking about he really wanted to go to the March on Washington. We didn't have the money. And Frank said, well, I have been thinking about hitchhiking. It was dark by the time we started out.

It was deserted like this.

The route we had to take was up Highway 11. James and I kind of were hanging back a little bit at a time from Frank, because we said, he ain't going to do this . We're going to turn around. He's going to get scared, he's going to get tired, and we're going to turn around.

Looking back, I think I was crazy, considering the time and the things that had happened.

We probably walked maybe 12, 13, 14 miles before we got our first ride. We got into Washington about 3:00 on a Wednesday morning. Finally, we saw a police officer who knew where the NAACP office was. And he told us how to get there. The next day, we went over to the headquarters. They put us to work. Our job was to pull all those signs together. We got paid $3 a day to do that.

Saturday morning, before the march on Wednesday, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. walked in and he said, "I just left your hometown." And I will never forget. He said, "Your parents wanted me to check on you to make sure you guys were OK. Are you guys OK?" and sat down and talked with us for 20, 30 minutes, maybe. He wanted to know what our dreams and thoughts were, what did we want to do, what we wanted to be.

LEMON: Coming up: worrying about the worst.

MUDD: They put the National Guard on standby. They had a draft drawn up declaring martial law.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Freedom now movement, hear me. We are requesting all citizens to move into Washington to go by plane, by car, bus, any way that you can get there. Walk, if necessary. Please join. Go to Washington.

RUSTIN: Well, we have a feel for 100,000, and I think we will have that many and go over that figure.

RACHELLE HOROWITZ, MARCH STAFF: Bayard Rustin believed there were sort of three groups of people in the country. There were the advocates of civil rights. There were the die-hard opponent racists, and that in the middle, there were a mass of well-meaning white people who really didn't care, but if they could be shown that black people were determined, that their cause was just, that they could be won over to the cause of civil rights.

A. PHILIP RANDOLPH, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: Negroes want the same things that white citizens possess. And no force under the sun can stem and block and stop the civil rights revolution which is now under way.

NORTON: There had been demonstrations all through the South. This needed to come to a head. There needed to be a crescendo.

HOROWITZ: And whereas Bayard was the only human being who probably could have organized the March on Washington, A. Philip Randolph was the only human being that could have gotten all the civil rights leaders into one room to agree on common action.

NORMAN HILL, MARCH STAFF: So, the march staff, headed by Bayard Rustin, had two months approximately to organize the march.

HOROWITZ: We moved up to 130th Street, to what was then a fairly ramshackle building. It was not elegant, to say the least.

NORTON: We were three floors, it could have been four, in a big Harlem brownstone, lots of rooms.

PATRICIA WORTHY, MARCH STAFF: The office was one of the most exciting places I have ever worked. People were coming. People were going. People were yelling at each other. People were having meetings in corners.

NORTON: If you want to see what the major work of those of us who worked for the march was, it was in fact getting people to come by talking on the phone about how you get there.

WORTHY: When I worked on the march in Washington office, I don't think I had a title. I answered the telephone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: March on Washington. May I help you, please?

WORTHY: When I walked in the door, the phones were ringing. They rang until I left around 5:30, 6:00. I recall a day that I will never forget. I heard someone say, "Where is this young lady who handles the phone?" And, finally, I looked up, and there he was, Dr. King. And he said: "I want to meet this young lady. She's put me on hold twice and hung up on me once, and I want to know who she is."

And I was so embarrassed. And he gave me a hug.

HOROWITZ: What we all knew is that there had to be somebody who coordinated the transportation. And Bayard turned to me and said, in his sometime British accent, "It's you, my dear."

And I was totally horrified and frightened. How could I be the transportation director? I can't drive, which I couldn't. I was a New Yorker. And he said to me, "No, you are compulsive, and I know you will not lose one person or one organization that wants a bus. And, therefore, you should do it."

A one-woman travel agency for a 100,000 D.C.-bound, yes.

WORTHY: The last three weeks before the march, I recall being there until 7:30, 8:00 at night on the phones. And by the time, the day of the march, I don't think I had ever been that tired in my entire life.

HOROWITZ: All of us who worked on the march knew that at some point the right wing would have to find some way to discredit this march. And, finally, it dropped fairly late. Strom Thurmond did it on the floor of the United States Senate.

STROM THURMOND, U.S. SENATOR: The article states that he was convicted in 1953 in Pasadena, California, of a morals charge. The conviction was sex perversion.

COURTLAND COX, MARCH STAFF: Bayard had been attacked both for his homosexuality and his -- also his political views, because Bayard also was a socialist and a pacifist.

HOROWITZ: It was just one of these facts of life. Bayard is gay. He doesn't hide it. I said to somebody once that he never knew there was a closet to go into.

RUSTIN: The senator is interested in attacking me because he is interested in destroying the movement. He will not get away with this.

HOROWITZ: I think Bayard was relieved that it was out, it had happened. Nobody thought that Strom Thurmond had anything good in mind by doing it.

Weeks before, we were running out of buses and cars. I calculated that there would be approximately 67,000 people on the march. And I immediately got depressed, because Bayard had been predicting 100,000. We really got very worried, and Bayard Rustin brought in my memorandum, and Roy Wilkins looked at it and said, "Hot damn, we're going to go over a quarter-of-a-million."

And he said, "What she doesn't know," said Wilkins, "is the number of people who are going to wake up Wednesday morning and decide to get in their car and go."

MUDD: The government and the Kennedy administration was not quite sure what was going to happen.

NORTON: The Kennedys were almost morbidly afraid of this march. And remember that it was in the backdrop of the violence in the South. Who was to say that that violence wouldn't be brought to Washington?

MUDD: They closed the bars. They put the National Guard on stand by. They had a draft drawn up declaring martial law.

BRUCE SMITH, HIGHWAY DEPARTMENT DRIVER: As an employee of the Highway Department in Washington, D.C., my assignment, because I did not want to stay home, was to come in and man an empty highway department truck to carry bodies out from the riot that would take place. A day or two before the march, the 82nd Airborne appeared, and they set up tents and proceeded to occupy the area between there and the Capitol.

LEWIS: On August 28, 1963, the city shut down.

LEMON: By noon the next day, almost 250,000 people would be jammed shoulder-to-shoulder, stretching half the length of the National Mall.

AVERY: I mean, they just come from all over the place, like somebody had threw something into a bed of ants.




BEVERLY ALSTON, HARLEM YOUTH GROUP: At the time of the March, I was 12. I was a Harlem girl and going down south. I kind of thought that Washington, D.C. was literally down South. I kind of had nightmares about what was going to happen to us going down on these buses in the South.

And we rode down on a yellow school bus. It was very rickety. It was -- there was no air conditioning.

BARBARA STILL, HARLEM YOUTH GROUP: We were singing, "We Shall Overcome" and "before I will be a slave."

PAUL ULLAH, HARLEM YOUTH GROUP: We knew that we were going to get there one way or another.

ALSTON: We were going to the march, and we would have gotten there regardless if we had to walk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five, four, three, two, one. This is an audio test.

COX: Bayard Rustin and I got up very early. We went out to the Mall. There was literally nobody, and Bayard turned to me and said, do you think anybody is coming to this march?


HILL: Bayard took a walk on the mall just to check on march facilities.

RUSTIN: And the press was surrounding me and they were, saying, "Mr. Rustin, Mr. Rustin, what's happening? You said there were going to be 250,000 people here, and there's scarcely a half-dozen here."

HOROWITZ: And Bayard, with tremendous aplomb, went into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. RUSTIN: And taking my watch out of the other pocket, I looked at my watch.

HOROWITZ: And he looked at the piece of paper and he looked at the watch.

RUSTIN: And I said, gentleman, everything is going according to Hoyle.

HILL: Meaning according to schedule.

HOROWITZ: They walked away and I said to Bayard, what are you looking at? He said: "Nothing. It was a blank piece of paper."

RUSTIN: I was terrified the people weren't going to show up.

BRUCE HARTFORD, MARCH PARTICIPANT: A lot of people on the bus were tense. We're getting all these news stories about, oh, the march is going to be violent, we have got to hide the white women. It's going to be riots and devastation. The march was going to be a flop.

The dawn starts to come up over the Eastern Shore of Maryland and it begins to get light. And what was around us on that highway was buses, nothing but buses, buses everywhere that you could see, in front of us, behind us, next to us. A whole highway was filled with buses.

AVERY: All night long, we were in the process of moving all the signs out to the parade grounds. People started coming in a little bit before the sun came up. People started arriving. But, once the sun came up, I mean, wow, I mean, they just come from all over the place, like somebody had threw somebody into a bed of ants.

MUDD: I got down there, I think it was at 8:00 in the morning. It was my first major assignment at CBS. I didn't know how to ad lib well, and I was pretty nervous.

And I began to feel nauseated. And I just slipped down the steps and around where the big boxwood bushes were, and I just threw up. And that helped a lot.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now back to Roger Mudd.

MUDD: Here at the Lincoln Memorial, the site is almost something nobody in Washington has beheld before. As you look down the Reflecting Pool...

NORTON: I could see from the plane whether or not there were people gathering. And, boy, did I see people gathering. It was one of the most unforgettable sights of my life.

MUDD: Every time I would look up from my papers or look away, I would look back at the crowd, and it was twice as big as it was when I looked before. It was an endless stream. ALSTON: I think that I was a little surprised...

STILL: To see so many whites?

ALSTON: ... to see so many whites.


AVERY: And the fact that people were there, both black and white, rich and poor, getting along.

ALSTON: It was very, very enlightening, and I was happy, because then I knew it at least stood a chance.

MUDD: The long-awaited march for jobs and freedom on Washington, D.C., has started, and it started early without its scheduled leader.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep moving up there.

LEWIS: And the people were already marching. They literally pushed us, pushed us toward the Washington Monument, toward the Lincoln Memorial.

HOROWITZ: Bayard had absolute confidence in the fact that, if you had a well-organized event, and you had your own marshals and people who were trained, that it would be nonviolent.

GEORGE TURNER, MARCH MARSHAL: The M. signified that we were marshals.

This is the original M.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maintain order and security among the marchers.

TURNER: This was going to be a peaceful march, and our role was to keep it peaceful.

MUDD: George Lincoln Rockwell's Nazi Party has been boxed in over on the Washington Monument.

TURNER: My group, there was about five of us. We were to keep a distance between the Nazi Party, who were there. The idea was to keep them from intermingling with the rest of the marchers.

MUDD: We just got a report that the head of the American Nazi Party, George Lincoln Rockwell, has headed out. He's mad. He's been told to leave the Washington Monument.

SMITH: At some point in early afternoon, when it was clear no riot was going to happen, they said, well, I guess you all can go home.

MUDD: We were all geared for something happening. We were all itchy about violence. It was the best thing that could have happened that nothing happened.

HARRY BELAFONTE, ENTERTAINER: Myself personally, my task was to organize a cultural contingency to come to the March on Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I give you Mr. Burt Lancaster.


BELAFONTE: Paul Newman, Lena Horne, Sammy Davis Jr., Marlon Brando.

JONES: Al of them looked to Harry as their spiritual, political, moral civil rights mentor, because they knew his close relationship with Dr. King.

BELAFONTE: One of the things I said in my conversations with the Kennedys in discussing why they should be more yielding in their support of our demonstration was the fact that there would be such a presence of highly profiled artists, that that alone would put anxiety to rest, that people would looking at the occasion in a far more festive way.

WORTHY: I finally got to where I was supposed to be seated, and I got a chance to look out.

I thought to myself, my goodness, I probably have talked to almost every person out there, because I had been on that phone for so many days, for so many hours. And it just was the most gratifying feeling.

LEMON: Just ahead: sound and fury.

LEWIS: Near the end of the original text, I said something like, we may be forced to march through the South the way Sherman did.



LEMON: The two most memorable speakers on this day were a young John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr. But in each case, there would be debate and doubt about what to say.

A. PHILIP RANDOLPH, MARCH CHAIRMAN: Fellow Americans, we are gathered here in the largest demonstration in the history of this nation.

ROY WILKINS, NAACP EXECUTIVE SECRETARY: I want to thank all of you for coming here today, because you saved me from being a liar. I told them you would be here. They didn't believe me, because you always make up your mind at the last minute.

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON, MARCH HQ STAFF: What was important to us at the time, those of us who worked on the march, was not the speeches, but would people come. That's all we wanted to happen. Would they come? They did. ROBERT AVERY, MARCH PARTICIPANT: John Lewis probably impressed me more than anybody. Because he was a young guy who knew where he was going, knew what needed to be done.

JOHN LEWIS, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: I received a note under my door from Bayard Rustin saying, in effect, that there was some concern about my speech. My speech was pretty strong.

COURTLAND COX, STUDENT NONVIOLENT COORDINATING COMMITTEE: Bayard came to us and said that Archbishop O'Boyle was not going to participate in the march unless John changed his speech.

ROGER MUDD, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: He said that unless the text were altered, the archbishop would not pronounce the invocation. He said to people that Lewis's text would incite the crowd to violence.

LEWIS: Near the end of the original text, I said something like, "We may be forced to march to the south the way Sherman did, nonviolently." We told Bayard we were not going to change the speech.

Bayard left and then came back with Randolph.

Mr. Randolph came and said, "John, we've come this far together. Can you change this? Can you delete that? Let's stay together."

COX: So we went to the back of the Lincoln Memorial and on a small typewriter, made the changes to John's speech.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brother John Lewis.

LEWIS: Where is my party? Where is the political party that will make it unnecessary to march on Washington? Where is the political party that would make it unnecessary to march in the streets of Birmingham?

AVERY: Some people say it was a very fiery speech. But all young folk back then were very fiery.

LEWIS: We must have legislation that will protect the Mississippi sharecropper, who is put off his farm because he dares to register to vote.

During the delivery of the speech, I saw hundreds and thousands of young people standing on the right, and they were cheering. Seemed like they were encouraging me to go on and go on.

To those who have said, "Be patient and wait," we have long said that we cannot be patient.

RACHELLE HOROWITZ, MARCH HQ STAFF: My heart was in my mouth all during John Lewis's speech, because he had to change it at the last minute.

LEWIS: I did my best. I think it was a strong speech.

We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now. MUDD: There was a deputy attorney general in the Justice Department, whose assignment was to get control of the sound system so that if the oratory got inflammatory, he would be able to cut the sound system off. Of course, he never had to do that.

PATRICIA WORTHY, MARCH HQ STAFF: The day went on and on and on. I mean, it just went on. I thought to myself, well, you know, this gives me an opportunity to go and sit down and take maybe a brief nap. So I went and found myself a little spot leaning up against one of the columns, as I recall. "But it will be just for a moment," and I dozed off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Walter Reuther was a constant advocate of civil rights. Human rights.

WALTER REUTHER, PRESIDENT, UNITED AUTO WORKERS: There is a lot of noble talk about brotherhood, and then some Americans drop the brother and keep the hood.

MARC STEPP, UNITED AUTO WORKERS: Walter Reuther explained to us the important of the UAW's role. We rented sound systems. The UAW paid for signs, paid for caps that said "UAW" on it.

NORMAN HILL, MARCH HQ STAFF: In fact, union contributions toward the implementation and execution of the march were more than civil rights organizations themselves.

STEPP: Twenty-five percent of the UAW membership was African- American.

REUTHER: It is the responsibility of every American to share the impatience of the Negro American.

STEPP: I wouldn't say most, but you'll see a lot of those white persons who participated came about Walter Reuther's leadership.

ROWLAND SCHERMER, PHOTOGRAPHER: I was the official government photographer. I would sort of like a free roving guy. I saw this earnest face, and she's really a beautiful young girl, 12-year-old girl, and she was so intense. The picture reflects that. I'm very proud of that picture.

EDITH LEE PAYNE, MARCH PARTICIPANT: I first found out about the photo in October of 2008. One of my cousins noticed a calendar, a 2009 Black History calendar, but then there was also a picture of me holding this banner. When she told me, I of course, I thought she was joking, but low and behold, there I was.

SCHERMER: I wasn't the only one that would be struck my it, and she's become like the face of the March on Washington.

BEVERLY ALSTON, HARLEM YOUTH GROUP: August 28, 1963, was the hottest day in history. And I remember having my feet in the reflecting water. I'm this little kid, I can't see anything. I'm the youngest. I'm kind of like anxious now to get back on this yellow rickety bus. I particularly remember Mahalia Jackson.

MAHALIA JACKSON, SINGER (singing): Find me, Lord.

ALSTON: Only because everyone around me had just gone wild.

JACKSON: Hallelujah.

HARRY BELAFONTE, ENTERTAINER: Mahalia was the catalyst to that moment. She was the call to order.

She was calling everybody to attention. She had come just before Dr. King spoke.


LEMON: Next, words that were not scheduled to be spoken.

WYATT TEE WALKER, ADVISOR TO DR. KING: I was spending my time lobbying Dr. King not to use the "I Have a Dream" speech. I thought it was hackneyed and trite.


ANDREW YOUNG, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: I had been on the front lines since January. And I didn't see this as really worth my time. This was a picnic on the park, and Dr. King called and said for me to get on the plane and come on up there, that I'd be sorry if I missed it.

HARRY BOYTE, SON OF DR. KING STAFFER: So I got to Washington, the Willard Hotel, and dad was on the executive committee, and there must have been several people on the staff staying in the hotel.

CLARENCE JONES, DR. KING'S ATTORNEY: We had sequestered a corner of the hotel with some chairs around it.

BOYTE: They were having a staff meeting to talk about the speech.

WALKER: I was spending my time lobbying Dr. King not to use the "I Have a Dream speech" because we had heard it so many times. I thought it was hackneyed and trite.

BOYTE: The staff didn't agree that he should use "I Have a Dream" as the theme.

JONES: I could sort of see this look of exasperation for Dr. King. And he finally got up and he said, "Gentlemen, thank you very much for your time and suggestions. I'm going upstairs and I'm going to counsel with the Lord."

BOYTE: I put my sleeping bag on my father's hotel floor. I think I was just drifting off to sleep and I heard Dr. King's voice. "I Have a Dream" coming through the wall from -- clearly from the next room. And I thought, he must be practicing his speech for the next day. RANDOLPH: I have the pleasure to present to you, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

YOUNG: Everybody wanted to speak first, because they figured the first speakers would make the 6 p.m. news. And Dr. King ended up speaking last.

REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.

JONES: And as he's reading his next, Mahalia Jackson, his famous gospel singer, is sitting on the platform, and she shouts at him, interrupts him, and says, "Tell them about the dream, Martin. Tell them about the dream."

KING: I still have a dream.

WALKER: I said, "Oh, 's.'" I thought it was a mistake to use that. But how wrong I was. It had never been used on a world stage before.

JONES: And whoever was standing next to me, I said to that person, "They don't know it, those people out there." I said, "They don't know it, but they're about ready to go to church."

KING: I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Jordan, sons of former slaves, and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

PAUL ULLAH, HARLEM YOUTH GROUP: It was like you could hear a pin drop, because I guess everybody in the audience at that time felt he was actually speaking to them.

KING: I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation will they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

AVERY: I felt like he was talking about me and talking to me, and I didn't want anybody to accept me because of the color of my skin. I wanted them to accept me because I was me.

KING: Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi, from every mountainside.

LEWIS: He transformed the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial into a modern-day pulpit.

KING: Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last.

BELAFONTE: It was Shakespearean in its magnificence and in its cadence.

YOUNG: I was down at the bottom of the steps where I was watching not only his speech, but the reaction of the crowd. And it was electrifying.

ALSTON: They were emotional. People were crying.

ULLAH: We knew that we were part of something that was -- it was going to transcend the face of this country.

WORTHY: I dozed off. And when I woke up, the march was over. Dr. King had spoken, everyone had spoken, and some of my buddies from the office finally found me and woke me up. When I finally did hear Dr. King's speech in its entirety, I realized that I had missed probably the greatest speech of the century.

LEWIS: After the March on Washington was over, President Kennedy had invited us back down to the White House. He stood in the door of the Oval Office, and he greeted each one of us. He was like a beaming, proud father. And he said, "You did a good job; you did a good job; you did a good job." And when he got to Dr. King, he said, "And you had a dream."

LEMON: Soon, death in Dallas and in Birmingham.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas.

LEWIS: I felt like we had lost a friend.


At the end, we just thought, this is incredible, and we all linked hands and we sang "We Shall Overcome."

BELAFONTE: We thought if we could get close to 100,000 people, we would have called it the day of victory.

MUDD: To bring you up to date on this crowd, estimated by police at 210,000.

BELAFONTE: For it to come off the way it did, for everybody singing and feeling a great spirit of America, it was a day of miracles.

JONES: I said, "Martin, we haven't heard the Klan's response yet. We haven't heard the Klan's suppose yet to something that must have shook them to their foundation."

LEWIS: It was a sad and dark hour for those of us in the movement, a dark hour for the country. Eighteen days after the march, when there was so much hope, so much optimism, the bombing took place in my home state of Alabama.

JONES: The Klan just gave us their response.

YOUNG: It shocked the whole nation, because for the first time they began to make a connection between hate speech and violent actions. AVERY: My reaction was to go to Birmingham.

We went down later on that evening, and I guess I thought about that could have been any of us. It was more that we've got to show solidarity, that yes, you bombed this church. Yes, you killed some young ladies, four innocent people. But that's not going to stop us.

BARBARA STILL, HARLEM YOUTH GROUP: Something in our background said that there's going to be some rough days ahead, but we're going to make it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here is a bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas.

LEWIS: It was an unbelievable, sad moment. I felt like we had lost a friend.

WALTER CRONKITE, FORMER CBS NEWS ANCHOR: From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official. President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time, 2 p.m. Eastern Time.

HILL: I was in the ninth grade when President Kennedy was assassinated. And we all knew that Vice President Lyndon Johnson was a southerner. We were deathly afraid of that. We thought that he would get in, and then everything would be over.

LYNDON B. JOHNSON, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No memorial, oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy's memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long.

LEWIS: He told some of his southern friends, "We're going to do this. You just be quiet. You just step aside."

JONES: Putting it crassly, President Johnson's former of political power is that you take names and you kick ass. And there's no sense having power if you don't let your friends know you have it and your enemies know that you will use it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five hours after the House passes the measure, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is signed at the White House by President Johnson.

MUDD: Lyndon Johnson signed it with 75 pens.

NORTON: When you consider that for 100 years black people had been trying to get just rudimentary rights, and one year after the March on Washington, there had been the first important civil rights bill since Reconstruction, that was a moment when you made the connection. That march mattered.

AVERY: I was standing back on the Mall again. Barack Obama was being sworn in as the 44th president of the United States of America.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.


OBAMA: So help me God.

ROBERTS: Congratulations, Mr. President.

AVERY: I cried the night he was elected, and I cried the day he was sworn in.

LEWIS: During lunch, after the inauguration, the president came around. I stood up. I had a little envelope in my pocket. I said, "Will you please sign this?" And he signed it. And it said, "Because of you, John, Barack Obama." I teared up; he teared up.

NORTON: No one could have envisioned 50 years ago that -- that Barack Obama would be named president of the United States, or anybody even remotely like him. That's not what we were striving for. This was a march about the everyday black man and woman, who had nothing. It was about the fact that each and every one of us was denied basic rights simply because of the color of our skin, and we needed somehow to demonstrate that to the country, make them do something about it.

LEWIS: From time to time, I do reflect back, realizing that of the ten speakers, that I'm the only one still around. I feel more than lucky. I feel very blessed that I can still go down to the Lincoln Memorial and just stand where we stood.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At the end, we just thought, this is incredible, and we all linked hands.