Shelby: In 1963, racial tension in the U.S. was running high. So when civil rights leaders planned a protest here in the nation’s capital, many feared there would be violence and unrest. Instead, Americans chose peace that day, and the March on Washington proved to be a key moment in the fight for civil rights.
Rosie Brooks: It was a sea of people. You really wouldn’t see the grass.
Shelby: Rosie Brooks is sharing her memories with a new generation. She was a 16-year-old dance student when she attended the March on Washington in 1963.
What was it like to be here fifty years ago?
Rosie: Electrifying. And I say that because everyone was here for the same purpose. There was a oneness about everything. People just wanted to hear what this man had to say.
Shelby: Now a dance teacher, Rosie is a window to history for students like May Robison.
May Robison: Although I read the facts and history books, it means a whole lot more to me when I hear it from Ms. Brooks. It’s wonderful to hear about someone else’s experiences and being able to apply them to your own life.
Shelby: Rosie was one of more than a quarter million people who showed up on the National Mall to demand change on August 28th, 1963.
Rosie: It was white, it was black, it was American natives. It just was everyone.
Shelby: The demonstrators marched a full mile from the Washington Monument down to the Lincoln Memorial. There in front of the statue of President Lincoln, who had declared the freedom of black slaves in the South 100 years earlier, they called for equal rights for African-Americans, who were still not treated the same as whites in some parts of the country.
The march was organized by civil rights leaders amidst a summer of protests and unrest. There were demonstrations in more than 100 southern cities.
Fearing violence, police and the Army were on high alert. But their services were never needed.
Rosie: There was a serenity there. You had people that just reached and hugged you. You didn’t know them, they didn’t know you, but you were there.
Shelby: Singers, speakers and celebrities rallied the thousands of marchers and called on the millions watching on TV to stand up for equality and justice. But it was the last speech of the day that stole the show.
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed.
Shelby: Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech grabbed headlines and built the momentum for change.
King: I have a dream my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.
Rosie: It was a turning point of hearing it and of seeing so many people that wanted change.
Shelby: The March on Washington was one of the biggest human rights rallies in U.S. history, and it helped pressure Congress to pass sweeping civil rights laws, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The laws banned discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin.
Fifty years later, America is a different country. But many say the fight for equality is still not over.
May: There is still a lot of prejudice. There is still so much we can work on.
On August 28th, 1963…
Shelby: This year, May Robison wrote an essay about Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech and won $500. She says she was inspired by Rosie and her dance team.
May: When you’re dancing with a group of dancers, you’re all kind of part of the same group. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is, what your religion is, even how tall or short you are. We find one feeling that we all want to express, and we all express it together.
Rosie: That’s what I’m trying to convey. And if I can convey that through them, and then they will pass it on somewhere in their life to someone else. Do unto others as you wish them to do unto you.
Shelby: Will you teach younger generations about the March on Washington and Rosie’s memories in another fifty years?
May: I hope so…to keep the memory alive.
Shelby: For more on the march and to see a full version of Dr. King’s speech, head over to Channelone.com. Tomorrow, we will tell you how the March on Washington is being honored across the country.