While there were no police dogs, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, an official from the Kennedy administration sat by a switch to turn off the sound system if the government thought any speaker was inciting violence.
President Kennedy watched from the Oval Office.
"I remember Dr. King when he saw all this before he went on. He looked out. His eyes filled up. It was beyond anything I've ever, ever experienced," Belafonte said.
With his speech in his hand and people as far as his eye could see, he began.
"I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation."
Young said, "It was hot and I was very uncomfortable, until Martin started speaking, and then the thing took on a new, a new character."
"The whole crowd just hushed and just something came over and everybody was just spellbound," Gregory said.
King was nervous. Looking down repeatedly at what he had written, some people thought at first that he was not his preacher self that day. He followed his prepared text closely.
King had been speaking for a bout 10 minutes and was getting to the end of what he had written — when sensing something in the crowd, he later said, he put the text aside.
‘I Have a Dream’
King never fully explained what happened to him that day, but the speech he had prepared was no longer enough.
King had spoken of the dream many times. But now the world was listening, and he uttered the lines that have quoted countless times since.
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that 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.
"We knew America was listening. We could hear America dropping every other thing to pay attention to what was going on. And there we were and the whole world looking at us and all of us speaking together out of one man's mouth," Ossie Davis recalls.
King knew the crowd was with him. This was no longer a speech. This was a Baptist sermon.
President Kennedy had never seen King speak before. "He's damn good," the president said.
Lewis said, "For the first time in people's living room they saw, they heard, they could almost feel and touch what the movement was all about."
But the civil rights leaders knew that all Americans weren't watching with support. Gregory said, "Why did white folks look at it? Not because they wanted to hear what niggas had to say. They thought it was going to be a bloodbath. They thought it was going to be violence and so they listened all the way to the end. If you would've told white folks we have a very eloquent Negro that's going to give a very eloquent speech, we want you to listen. They would've broke the TV, and so we were so happy when it was over that there was no violence."
As soon as the speech was over, King and the other leaders were taken to the White House to see the president. It was a moment that had great meaning.
A Dream in Progress
But America did not change overnight.