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People who participated in the March on Washington remember it on its 60th anniversary


Today marks 60 years since a seminal moment in the Civil Rights Movement - the 1963 March on Washington. Some 250,000 people gathered around the Lincoln Memorial that day. And NPR sat down with some of them to hear more about their memories, which included Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have A Dream" speech and so much more. We start with Courtland Cox, who was an organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

COURTLAND COX: The African American community had already been through the sit-ins. They had already been through the Freedom Rides. So when the call was made by A. Philip Randolph to have a march on Washington, people were ready to come.


A PHILIP RANDOLPH: They want no reservations. They want complete equality - social, economic and political.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: 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.

COX: Bayard Rustin and I got up early in the morning, and we went out to the Mall. There was not a soul on the Mall, no one. And Bayard turns to me and said, Courtland, do you think anyone is coming to this march? And as soon as he said that, I mean, people were just pouring out of bus stations, of train stations.


EDITH LEE-PAYNE: My name is Edith Lee-Payne. It was my 12th birthday. We started off at the monument. So as people were filling up, it was just kind of amazing to see. You know, at some point, that's all I could see - was just walls of people.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: By your great numbers, you have forced a slow, dignified and stately march. We'll see you at the Lincoln Memorial.

A PETER BAILEY: My name is Professor A. Peter Bailey. I went from first grade through 12th grade and learned practically nothing about Black history - I mean, nothing. I always liked history. And so I knew the March on Washington was going to be a historical event. So I went.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I have the pleasure to present to you Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


BAILEY: People need to understand the big issue that Black people had to face at that point is - what do you Negroes want? Martin King in his speech said what people want here is the full participation in the American dream. All the things that you hold sacred, we hold sacred.


MARTIN LUTHER KING JR: The promise that all men - yes, Black men as well as white men - would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


BAILEY: That was a powerful speech. It's almost criminal when they have reduced that man to "I Have A Dream," where he talks about the founding fathers of this country gave our ancestors a promissory note.


KING: But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.

BAILEY: And we've come here today to cash that check. Now, to me, that should be the quote, you know, that is memorized from that speech. You don't hear nothing - any programs and events - around the day of Dr. King's assassination. All you hear is "I Have A Dream," "I Have A Dream." And I think that it's almost criminal because that man was way more than that.


RANDOLPH: I think history was written today, which will have its effect on coming generations with respect to our democracy, with respect to our ideals, with respect to the great struggle of man toward freedom and human dignity.


BAILEY: You think you're going to do something today and see the results next week or next month. You got to understand that you're in a long-range thing. Look upon it as, like, a big chain, and every generation must do a share to weaken the links in that chain because the chain is definitely going to break. But it may be your great-grandchildren who see it break.

CHANG: That was A. Peter Bailey, Courtland Cox and Edith Lee-Payne recounting their memories of the March on Washington 60 years ago today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.