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Martin Luther King's speech still resonates 50 years later

File photo of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

August 27, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave an iconic civil rights speech that would change the nation forever. People are still pushing for civil rights today and King is influencing legislation that would strengthen voting rights for all.

Civil rights activist Peggy Dammond Preacely was 19 years old when she stood there in Washington and listened King's speech.

"I remember that day with great fondness," she said. "When we drove all night from New York City to get there, it was just a sea of humanity."

Preacely had attended workshops with King and had been part of the civil rights movement for several years. She remembers the feeling of hope all around her.

"Looking around me and seeing people from all walks of life, old and young, there were more white people there than many of us expected and it was wonderful to see Americans turning out to work for justice, jobs and freedom," said Preacely.

On Tuesday, the Rev. James Lawson called on Los Angeles County Supervisors to support legislation that will strengthen the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court recently altered parts of that landmark civil rights legislation.

"Fifty years later, we're still pushing for the universal right of all citizens of this country to vote," said Lawson.

Lawson was a close colleague of King and a strong believer of nonviolence. He didn't make it to Washington 50 years ago. However, he gave up his seat to a student. He listened to King's speech but didn't realize what it would become.

"Many of us in the struggle recognized that we were making changes and that we were doing what had not been done before, but we did not have the sense that this will be what's going on 50 years later. We did not have that long sight and probably no one did," said Lawson.

Lawson and others say it shows there is still much to be done and that they must fight now for the voting rights they marched for 50 years ago.