It is a day that will always be remembered for an incredible speech by Martin Luther King Jr.
But for many Americans, the 1963 March on Washington meant so much more. And as Washington prepares for the 50th anniversary this weekend, several Kansas City residents are preparing to make the journey again.
For lifelong Kansas City resident Edward Lewis, it was a humbling experience.
"The park service put the numbers at about 200,000, but I'm here to tell you, as far as you could see there were throngs of people," Lewis said.
Lewis attended the original March on Washington 50 years ago, and says it was a message heard around the world.
"It was a signal to the world that yes, we, as a people in large numbers, are aggrieved at what our conditions are," he said.
Lewis said much of the credit for the success of the March on Washington goes to its organizer, A. Phillip Randolph.
But Lewis admits, the bus trip to Washington that day was an anxious one.
"We just didn't know what lied ahead for us. You heard so much about buses in the South being derailed, so there was always that ... will we make it," Lewis said.
In 1963, marchers arrived by bus, train, car and on foot on a weekday, many dressed in their Sunday best. Although marchers were mostly black, the crowd included whites, Jews, Latinos and Native Americans.
Even 50 years later, the March on Washington is considered the catalyst for the civil rights movement. It is something Lewis never saw coming.
"Who knew at that time that this would go throughout the world? Be a genesis for better relations. Who knew that?" he said.
Lewis said when he left Kansas City, the city was very similar to other towns across the country when it came to civil rights.
However, when he returned years after his return from the March on Washington, he noticed a change.
"We've got a new spirit. We will forge on and try to make sure the fulfillment of Mr. Randolph's vision and Dr. King's dream are fulfilled," Lewis said.
Lewis said this year's march is about bringing everyone who might be discriminated against together.
"It's not just black people this time. It is all of us, and if one is hurt the other is hurt. They just don't know it," he said.
Due to poor health, Lewis will not be making that same journey in 2013, but he hopes the younger generations have the same sense of pride he had five decades ago.
"It hit a nerve among our people. This was their chance to signal to the world that they wanted some changes," he said.
While some Kansas City areas are traveling by train and plane and car on their own, a bus will leave Friday morning to take area residents east.
The observances begin Saturday with a march from the Lincoln Memorial to the King Memorial, led by the Rev. Al Sharpton and King's son, Martin Luther King III. They will be joined by the parents of Trayvon Martin, and family members of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who was kidnapped, beaten and shot in the head in 1955 after he was accused of flirting with a white woman.
Sharpton has refused to call Saturday's march a commemoration or a celebration. He says it is meant to protest "the continuing issues that have stood in the way" of fulfilling King's dream. Martin's and Till's families, he said, symbolize the effects that laws such as the stop-and-frisk tactics by New York police, and Florida's Stand Your Ground statute have in black and Latino communities.
"To just celebrate Dr. King's dream would give the false implication that we believe his dream has been fully achieved and we do not believe that," Sharpton said. "We believe we've made a lot of progress toward his dream, but we do not believe we've arrived there yet."
President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak at the Let Freedom Ring ceremony on Wednesday, and will be joined by former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
Along with their speeches, there will be a nationwide bell ringing at 3 p.m. EDT to mark the exact time King delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech, with which the march is most associated. The events were organized by The King Center in Atlanta and a coalition of civil rights groups.
Separately, a smaller march, led by people who participated in the 1963 event and young scholars and athletes, will make its way from Georgetown Law School in Washington to the Department of Labor, then the Justice Department and finally the National Mall.
The group plans to march behind a replica of the bus that Rosa Parks was riding in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger.
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