TODAY | August 28, 2013
>>> it is a defining moment in american history . dr. martin luther king , jr .'s "i have a dream" speech made 50 years ago today. al is in washington this morning. hey, al.
>> hey, willie, brooke. you can hear choppers overhead. a lot of security as you might imagine on a mday like this. but a quarter of a million americans descended on the mall between the lincoln memorial and the washington monument . it was the largest demonstration this country has ever seen. an enormous crowd that all fell silent as dr. martin luther king , jr . began to speak.
>> 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.
>> reporter: and it did. the march became the high point of the struggle for civil rights in the united states . people from every corner of the country united to share a message of civil liberty , and civil rights and equal opportunity for all. martin luther king , jr . laid out his vision of equality for the entire country.
>> but i have a dream. 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 today.
>> reporter: demachionstrators were divorce and peaceful. black and white , rich and poor, young and old. among the 250,000 people in attendance that day, gordon, a u.s. park service ranger working on the stage next to martin luther king , jr . rosemary mcgill, a teenage civil rights protestor. and edith payne there with her mother on her 12th birthday. joining me is edith, a community activist and her two granddaughters, thank you. so nice to see you ladies. thank you for joining us. that banner there says it all ms. payne. you were 12 years old. it was your birthday on that day.
>> that's right. it was my birthday. i came with my mother who wanted to join dr. king as he had asked her in june in detroit to stand with those to make a difference in what was happening in the south.
>> so you drove from detroit with your mom, came down here. what was this like? 50 years ago, when this mall was filled with, you were one of a quarter of a million americans.
>> actually we took the greyhound bus . it was a wonderful experience. it was a very, very hot humid day but it was so incredible to see so many people from all walks of life all standing together in unity after having heard so many disturbances. but there was no fear that there would be anything happening because everyone shared the same goal.
>> well, it's 50 years later. it's your birthday again and now you came from detroit , drove from detroit , with your granddaughte granddaughters, why.
>> i drove because i wanted my granddaughters to have the experience that i had 50 years ago. so they'll have the same kind of hope that i have for what we're facing in today's associate.
>> what are your thoughts about this? you have seen the videos. you have talked to your grandmother. what are you looking forward to today?
>> i'm looking forward to seeing obama.
>> president obama .
>> yes and my grandma has taught me a lot about everything. like people in the south couldn't do what she did. like go to school with white people , drink out of the same water fountain , have friends.
>> so you appreciate what people like your grandmother did to help move civil rights forward and destiny, you're a little older. you have to be pretty proud of your grandmother.
>> yes, a lot. i'm very proud of her. she is a role model to me.
>> and what are you looking forward to doing today and hearing today?
>> i am going to cherish this day a lot. my mother is not with me as she was 50 years ago. she passed away, but she and so many others stood together and they made a difference for us to even be where we are right now and with my granddaughters and others, they can carry us forward.
>> did you think you'd ever be standing here and listening to a black president speaking and addressing a crowd where martin luther king stood?
>> no. i never thought that would happen. i'm so proud that it did happen in my lifetime. so this is an incredible experience and wonderful honor and it's a great way to celebrate and commemorate dr. martin luther king and all of those that stood for us.
>> thank you so much. we appreciate you. willie, brooke, back to you guys.
>> thank you. great interview there. here in the studio, a retired new york state trooper and rosemary mcgill, a multicultural specialist at eastern florida state college. good morning to you both.
>> good morning.
>> i want to say what a cool thrill it is for us to have you here in our studio on this incredible day. i'm looking at that old picture of you 50 years ago. how does a 25-year-old park ranger get that spot on the stage next to dr. martin luther king ?
>> i believe it was the luck of the draw , basically. i never could find out why i was positioned there. but i was there and i was supposed to get a relief and i never got a relief. i was there for the entire day.
>> the whole day.
>> what did you see as you looked out at the crowd?
>> amazing. we suspected that there was going to be problems. we expected we would have 10 to 20,000 people coming to the memorial. and when that sea of people showed up, it was unbelievable. it was a thrill and a lot of mixed feelings that hopefully things would go well. the singers and entertainers beforehand seemed to have a calming effect until dr. king came up with his speech. beautiful speech.
>> can i call you guny?
>> what was the biggest change that you experienced from after that day? how you lived your life? how did you change after that?
>> well, i continued in a career of law enforcement and it was a very important position in our country at that time with the demonstrations and civil rights movements and things. i think it made me a better policeman, a more fair policeman and i tried to practice that always.
>> thank you. rosemary, i just have to ask you, you were so young, you were 19 at the time, you were an activist, and you said that when you got there, you were so, so surprised at what you saw. can you explain that?
>> yes, two weeks prior to the march i had been in st. augustine supporting dr. robert haley and it was there that i met the klan and i had a bitter taste in my mind regarding my white counter part so when i got to washington i was in awe and taken aback by the multicultural and the multiracial make up of the group that day. it kind of changed my attitude, based on what i saw. it was like a mecca. i had never seen that many racial groups come together. as a matter of fact, i was not that familiar with those outside my own racial group . and of course, as i stated, coming from the deep south , we didn't see you in the same light that i saw that day around the mall.
>> rosemary, as a 19-year-old foot soldier in the civil rights movement who has seen it all, i wonder how you feel today 50 years later seeing president obama stand on the steps, the first african american president making that speech.
>> if it was in the providence of god to let martin, or dr. king look back, i would like to whisper in his ear and say the march worked. his dream has been fulfilled. we still have many a battle to fight. the war is not over. but what we were fighting for at that particular time would make him proud. many things we need to do. america's ship was on it's side and he was our moses. he came along and set us aright. put our sails into the right wind. and when i left washington , i left edified. i left regenerated. and i believe that our leaders were. leaders committed to that cause. and we had a righteous wind in our back. nothing could turn us around.
>> what a beautiful way to put it.
>> we feel so lucky to have both of you here on this day. thank you for sharing your memories with us.