I saw it on TV at a military base in New Jersey I had just been transferred to. I didn't do marches back then. I was engaged to a beautiful woman who for most of our childhood and teen years would have been called "colored." We couldn't marry in most states because it was against the law.
I had been stationed in South Carolina, deliberately sent there because of the woman I was engaged to in an attempt to make me come to my senses. South Carolina was not only one of the states where we couldn't marry, it was so thoroughly segregated at the time that black folks couldn't go to the drive-in movie theater in their own car!
I had been run out of the town where the base was, Greenville S.C., because I refused to obey the stupid racial laws. I didn't realize by not doing it I was putting my black friends there in danger. I was thrown off the first bus I got on because I sat in the last seat so I could check people out as they got on and off but that was against the law.
Most of my friends at the time of the first march fifty years ago today were what we now call African-Americans but back then called Negro or spades on the street. And they didn't march either. They thought, and influenced me to think at the time, that marching was for squares and people who liked to join things. My friends back North preferred to just live their lives the way they felt and not let anyone mess with them even to the point of taking the risk of being beaten or jailed. In my town nobody messed with my black friends.
But we watched Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech and were moved. It felt to me like a vindication of everything I'd been living and feeling my entire life about race relations. Even if circumstances—including racism and personalities and ambitions and differences—ended my engagement not long after that speech, by the time I got to college on the G.I. Bill a few years later I was ready to march and more.
But the main thing about that march and King's speech (which included bits and pieces of many earlier speeches and articles of his, as you can find in A TESTAMENT OF HOPE The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King Jr., edited by James M. Washington that came out in 1986 and was a gift from my oldest son Miles) is that when it occurred I believed that any child of mine and that young woman I was engaged to would be okay, despite even the best intentioned friends' belief that no mixed race child would have a chance in the USA of 1963.
But the main speaker at today's march (well, yesterday by the time I finish typing this) proved who saw the future and who didn't back then. No matter what we might complain about that hasn't improved enough, we can't deny that amazing change.