MIAMI (CBSMiami) — August 28th marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most seminal events in the civil rights struggle. The March on Washington for jobs and freedom was one of the largest political rallies for human rights in U.S. history.
Hundreds of thousands of people converged on the National Mall to march from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial in support of civil and economic rights for African Americans. The event ended with one of the most iconic moments in the civil rights movement when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech.
The commemorations in Washington resonate for people all over South Florida including Shirley Bailey Johnson, a retired Miami-Dade educator who traveled from Jackson, Mississippi to the original March on Washington when she was a 17-year-old high school senior.
Her father was a big civil rights leader and President of the Jackson Branch of the NAACP. Her godfather was Medgar Evers, a civil rights activist slain in 1963, just two months before the March on Washington.
The March is a day Johnson will never forget.
“When we got off the bus, it was a rainbow of people like I’ve never seen before,” described Johnson.
When she heard Dr. King speak, she said it felt like he was speaking directly to her.
“I heard this voice that said, ‘I have a dream.’ And as Dr. King began to talk about the dream, it was electric. It was all of the things that I had been praying for, we had been fighting for and he put it in a dream that I could understand and that I wanted. Every time he would say a dream, I could just see it and envision it and I was just so happy that somebody had put my dreams into a vision,” recalled Johnson.
Johnson went back to Washington to march again a half century later, only this time with her daughter Ebony and her grandson Jason who is clearly very proud of his grandma.
“Every day I say ‘My grandma was there. She was at the March on Washington,’ and my friends say ‘We know. You already told us.’ And I say ‘Well, I have to say it again’.”
Jason went on to say his grandmother is a true inspiration. “All the work that she has done makes me happy. It makes me want to follow in her footsteps.”
Johnson said she has dedicated her life here in South Florida to making sure the dream Dr. King talked about 50 years ago is available to everybody, no matter who they are or what they look like.
Knowing and realizing that her hard work has paid off brought tears to her eyes.
“That’s probably the greatest gift that I could ever have. To know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the commitment I made to my father, that I have done it and will continue to do it as long as God gives me life.”
Johnson admits a lot of the battles her generation waged, are not completely won, but raising a daughter and grandson on the importance of those dreams, means there are future civil rights leaders ready to continue that work.