Nightly News   |  August 28, 2013

A dream revisited: celebrating the March on Washington

Thousands gathered 50 years ago to demonstrate in Washington, D.C., as America’s civil rights movement took center stage. On Wednesday, the anniversary of that historic event, marchers followed the same route taken in 1963. NBC’s Lester Holt reports

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> now as promised, why we're here in washington today. 50 years ago today a quarter of a million people marched on the streets of washington in a protest for racial, social and economic justice . it was a day that challenged this nation's conscience. from the steps of the lincoln memorial , a 34-year-old martin luther king jr . spoke forcefully and passionately finding the words that would define the struggle "i have a dream." today a new generation gathered here to renew that dream, including the country's first african- american president . it was a day of memories revisited, and hopes renewed. [ chanting ]

>> reporter: thousands gathered on a light rain to mark the day a half century ago when america 's civil rights movement took sender stage and the reverend martin luther king jr . made history.

>> i have a dream today. [ cheers ]

>> reporter: even king might not have dreamed 50 years later a black president would follow in his footsteps.

>> because they marched, city council change, state legislators changed and congress changed and, yes, eventually the white house changed.

>> reporter: today's marchers followed the route taken in 1963 . all color, all ages. they crowded on to the washington mall under the gaze of abraham lincoln and of king himself. emortalized in stone between the lincoln and jefferson memorials. some were here 50 years ago. edith lee payne captured in this iconic photo reunited with photographer roland sherman. lori brenner and dwight flowers who later married both marched.

>> it gave me a tremendous amount of hope.

>> reporter: in 1963 , gordon gunndron was a park ranger on the podium with dr. king.

>> the most beautiful poetry you would ever want it hear. it's about justice, it's about freedom

>> reporter: peter, paul and mary 50 years ago, and today without mary, but with the parents of trayvon martin and newtown father mark barden. 23-year-old activist john lewis --

>> we must wake up america .

>> reporter: now a congressman and elder statesman.

>> we must keep the faith and keep our eyes on the prize .

>> reporter: the day was a celebration and call to action , without the fears that shadowed the 1963 march. civil rights leader evers assassinated weeks before. a bombing killed four young girls weeks later. today evers widow spoke.

>> freedom is not free.

>> reporter: and the bell onstage, it was rescued from that birmingham church, and rung today by members of the king family .

>> so we come once again to let freedom ring .

>> when freedom rings, when we let it ring for encitizen --

>> reporter: king's words reached future presidents.

>> they opened minds, they melted hearts, and they moved millions, including a 17-year-old boy watching alone in his home in arkansas.

>> reporter: president johnson who was represented by daughter lynda. president kennedy by daughter caroline.

>> 50 years ago my father watched from the white house as dr. king and thousands of others recommitted america to our highest ideals.

>> reporter: on that day, reverend king and others met with kennedy at the white house .

>> the president made it very clear that we would need very strong bipartisan support if we were to get a civil rights legislation this year.

>> reporter: today the president stood where king stood.

>> we might not face the same dangers at 1963 , the urgency remains. no one can match king 's brilliance, but the same flame that lit the heart of all who were willing to take the first step for justice, i know that flame remains.

>> we'll be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old negro spiritual , free at last, free at last, thank god almighty , free at last! [ cheers and applause ] champions.

>> reporter: king would never guess 50 years later his bust would proudly be displayed in the oval office , there along with a framed copy of the original program of the march on washington . a reminder it's not too late to be part of our nbc news dream day project. we asked viewers along with political figures, leaders and celebrities to tweet us their dreams, and send us their dream videos. we've collected them at nbcnews.com/dpreem day and you can send your dreams on twitter using the