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Rita Moreno recalls 'goose bumps' of seeing MLK's 'I Have a Dream' speech in person

The 88-year-old Oscar winner also said she feels that things "are going to change" after seeing the protest movement in the wake of George Floyd's death.
/ Source: TODAY

Rita Moreno's memories of witnessing an iconic speech during the civil rights movement of the 1960s have come rushing back as she watches the ongoing worldwide protests against racial injustice.

The 88-year-old Oscar winner has shared her remembrances of being in the crowd in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963, when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Rita Moreno, Sammy Davis Jr. at The March On Washington For Jobs & Freedom
Rita Moreno sat next to singer and actor Sammy Davis Jr. in 1963 when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Francis Miller / Getty Images

"I still can't talk about it without getting these giant goose bumps," Moreno told Entertainment Tonight. "It was so exciting and I remember looking (behind) me, where the pool is at the Washington Monument, and there were thousands and thousands of people. Most of them in overalls, who had walked to this event. Some of whom had taken buses. It was just the most.

"And I remember thinking, 'I think this is going to be a very memorable experience, so Rita, don't forget one detail of this.'''

The Puerto Rican actress, who also has a Grammy, an Emmy and a Tony on her resume, was part of a group of celebrities sitting near King during the speech. Less than two years earlier she had won an Academy Award for best supporting actress as Anita del Carmen in "West Side Story."

She watched as King improvised during his prepared speech after gospel singer Mahalia Jackson told him to "tell them about your dream."

"We were sitting, literally, no more than 15 feet away from Dr. King,'' she said. "Harry Belafonte put together a Hollywood contingent, because he wanted Dr. King to know that there were people in our profession who were very serious and sincere about this whole business.

"I sat next to Sammy Davis Jr., and Harry Belafonte was on my right, and it was the most extraordinary experience I've ever had," she continued. "That really activated me. That did it. I thought, with this many people, I'm not alone. I'm not alone in my hurt and I'm not alone in my fear and I'm not alone in the belief that this has to change and that I can be one little bitty cog in that machine."

Rita Moreno
Rita Moreno is one of the rare performers who has won an Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy in her career. Steve Granitz / WireImage

Moreno also shared stories of racism she faced late into her career despite her success. She is hopeful that the current protest movement can bring about lasting change after seeing the diversity in the crowds.

"I see a lot of non-black faces," she said. "That's very important. It's important because I don't think — somehow in the past — these complaints have been taken as seriously as they should.

"I feel very excited, because I honestly feel that for the first time, truly the first time, things are going to change. …This is going to be different."