Witnesses to Martin Luther King's dream see a new hope

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Dezie Woods-Jones plans to stand Thursday night with her California delegation in a stadium here and listen to Barack Obama, the first black major-party presidential nominee in the nation's history, give his acceptance speech. Woods-Jones, now in her 60s, is one of a tiny handful of delegates who on the same day in 1963, Aug. 28, stood with hundreds of thousands at the March on Washington and heard a young minister, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., deliver his soaring"I Have a Dream" speech.

"I was young, naïve enough to think I would see that in 5, 10 years," she said."Then you see leaders killed, you see police brutality, residential segregation in cities. About 10 years ago I thought: I won't see this. This is something for my grandchildren." She paused, her eyes now red-rimmed.

"What to say except, 'Oh, hallelujah!'" she said."We have a lot of work, a lot, but we are so much closer than I expected."

These veterans of the March on Washington are the living connective tissue to the America of 1963, when the police in some cities and towns still beat blacks with truncheons, and the story of their journey is as complicated as race itself.

At least five veterans of that march traveled to Denver this week as Democratic delegates, among them Representative John Lewis of Georgia, who is the last man alive of the 10 who spoke that day at the Lincoln Memorial. This son of sharecroppers, who was almost beaten to death by police officers in Selma, Alabama, when he marched with civil rights activists across a bridge, stood on a sun-splashed street in Denver and considered the distance traveled.

Related Links

  • Edge of the American West (blog): History of the March on Washington

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