50 Years After the March on Washington

ABC News' Byron Pitts examines the legacy of MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech.
6:28 | 08/25/13

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Transcript for 50 Years After the March on Washington
Crowds out saturday commemorating an historic day in the civil rights struggle, the march on washington. The 50th anniversary is coming up on wednesday. President obama will mark it with a speech on the steps of the lincoln memorial, the very spot where martin luther king changed history. Abc's byron pitts takes us back. Reporter: It started with a press conference that barely made news, but boldly made history. We are calling for a non-violent, peaceful march on washington. Reporter: The year, 1963, jim crow was alive, the sting of segregation could kill. When a 34-year-old negro preacher had the audacity to dream aloud. We are determined to be free in '63. Reporter: Determined perhaps, but not fully optimistic. Organizers hoped for 100,000. A quarter million showed up. Dr. Martin luther king. Reporter: And on august 28th, 1936, not a soul had a clue how it might turn out. There was a fence that crossed this area. Reporter: Edith was 12. She traveled by bus nine hours with her mother to be on the mall. A photographer capturing her in one of the most famous photos from the march. What did you think of him? I held on to every word just like everyone else. Reporter: It was billed as a march for jobs and freedom, drawing the faithful, the curious, the famous. ♪ and people watched live on television from around the world. Both drawn by what might happen at the lincoln memorial, and still reeling from what did on the streets of birmingham weeks earlier. With all the bloodshed and bombings in the south, many of dr. King's inner circle thought a march in washington might be a waste of time. We thought this was a picnic on the park and that the real action was in the south. Reporter: Former u.S. Ambassador andrew young was one of king's top aides. I was going to watch it on television and he called and said you and gene get on a plane and come up here. Reporter: This is important. Yeah. Reporter: John lewis, the newly appointed chairman of the student non-violent committee was already there. When we met with president kennedy, he was afraid there would be violence. How long can we be patient? Reporter: Like king, lewis was one of the march organizers and speakers. We want to be free now. Reporter: At what point did you recognize it as an historic moment? When I stepped to the podium, I saw hundreds and hundreds of young people. I said to myself, this is it. Reporter: The civil rights movement was in many ways a youth movement. Dr. King was 34, lewis, 23. You were still a kid. I grew up. When you had been sitting on the lunch counter stool and someone walks up and spits on you, or pour hot water or hot coffee on you, and you are committed to non-violence. You have to grow up. To go on freedom rides in 1961, the same year that president barack obama was born, and to be beaten, you had to grow up. So by the time of the march on washington I was 23, but an older person. Reporter: An old soul. I was an old soul. Reporter: They all were. Old souls pushing for a new america. It was now left to one man, the final speaker of the day. Dr. King, was he nervous? Not at all. He was determined to not speak more than ten minutes. He did. He finished his prepared address in just about nine minutes. Reporter: But he wasn't finished, sitting behind him was a famed gospel singer who shouted to her friend, tell them about the dream. It's a theme he'd used before in smaller settings. I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the american dream. Reporter: Why do you think he made that transition to talk about the dream? As a preacher, there's something we -- we call being led by the spirit. The spirit told him to lay that paper down and go for it. I have a dream. Of my poor 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. Reporter: And it's a dream that still lives on 50 years later. Edith drove to d.C. From detroit for this week's commemoration and she brought her granddaughters with her. I wanted my granddaughters to see what I saw 50 years ago. To stand up for what's right. Reporter: The struggles then and those to come draw john lewis back as well. You still come here often. Oh, yes. Reporter: Why? Because I come here to reflect, to remember. Reporter: Remembering his old friend, and the day that both made history and changed it. This spot is almost sacred. Dr. King must be looked upon as one of the founding fathers of the new america. Lewis believes america has come far in 50 years. Many issues still exist. Progress, he says, just a down payment on the dream. What was at stake that day? The future of america as one nation. As one people. It was at stake. He helped hold us together. Reporter: Is there one moment from that day that sticks out in your mind most? He started saying let freedom ring. Let freedom ring. From stone mountain of georgia, let freedom ring. From every mole hill -- from mississippi, from every mountainside -- let freedom ring. And I think people all across america in their hearts believe that freedom should ring for everybody. Free at last, free at last, thank god, almighty, we are free

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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