Fifty years on: 'King's dream continues to inspire us'

March on Washington Peter Crane's slide captures the crowd in Washington on 28 August 1963

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It is 50 years since the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King delivered his I Have a Dream speech [PDF format].

On 28 August 1963, more than 200,000 Americans joined a march on Washington demanding equal justice for all citizens under the law.

On that day, the inter-racial crowd heard Martin Luther King deliver his famous speech, predicting a time when freedom and equality for all would become a reality in the US.

Here people whose lives have been touched by that moment reflect and share their memories half a century on.

Jill Burrows, 67, communications professional, Cambridge, Massachusetts

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As far as the eye could see, well-meaning individuals, both black and white, linked arms and put their hearts into singing hopeful renditions of We Shall Overcome”

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During the 50s and 60s black Americans in the South were born, lived, worked, socialised and died in communities that were separate and distinctly unequal from those of our white counterparts.

Although I was just a young girl at the time, I still have vivid memories of drinking out of Coloured Only fountains and going to a segregated school. Bus drivers instructed us to move to the back of the bus - even when there were no other passengers.

Despite this my parents were emphatic in their belief that, in America, if we worked hard and were good citizens anything and everything was possible. This conviction appeared to be in direct opposition to general expectations.

When Dr King came into our lives he expanded our horizons, fuelled our expectations, extended hope, and offered the nation a blueprint for enacting change.

In August of 1963, I joined the March on Washington with my parents. Having lived in the South and experienced all we had, we felt it was really important to be there and to show our support.

Jill Burrows in 1963 Jill was 17 when she joined the 1963 March on Washington

It was the most amazing experience because people there were so loving. We all felt as if we were one.

I can remember taking notes during King's stirring speech because even at the time it felt like a moment of history.

As far as the eye could see, well-meaning individuals, both black and white, linked arms and put their hearts into singing hopeful renditions of We Shall Overcome.

I remember thinking that surely everyone in the world would hear - and heed - Dr King's simple but powerful message of love, peace and social justice for all.

Sadly, on the evening of April 4 1968, when the shots rang out at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, it became apparent that there were those who had not.

For some time afterwards it felt as if those who love to hate had seized the day, and it was devastating. But that was now 50 years ago.

Looking back at that time, Dr King's legacy of personal sacrifice, unyielding courage and service to others, feels just as radical and empowering today as it did then.

Denise Richardson, 47, housewife, Cincinnati, Ohio

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Every year on the anniversary of Dr King's famous speech, I watch a recording of it with my family”

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I've been in a mixed-race marriage for 19 years and have two children, aged 13 and 10.

I am a product of the change that was set out in Martin Luther King's speech.

I am free to marry the man I love regardless of colour. I am free to raise my children to embrace who they are.

Denise Richardson and family Denise says we are close to King's promise today

Every year on the anniversary of Dr King's famous speech, I watch a recording of it with my family. It brings tears to my eyes because it represents freedom.

It gives my children another perspective on their lives. It is a chance for them to see that there is something bigger than themselves.

The end of the speech sticks in my mind, when Dr King looks forward to a day when all God's children - of all races - will be free.

I grew up in Kentucky and the high school I went to was very conservative. I never interacted with anyone who was from another race.

But as I got older I met people from other cultures, races and backgrounds and it opened my eyes.

I feel I am able to live in a diverse community, attend a diverse church and send my children to a diverse school because a lot of people made sacrifices during those years.

When I watch Dr King's speech I feel he is making a promise about what will happen in the future. We've got a long way to go, but we are close to experiencing that promise today.

Peter Crane, 66, retired, Seattle, Washington

March on Washington Peter says there was a festival atmosphere during the 1963 march.

I took part in the March on Washington. I was then about to turn 17 and lived in the capital.

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Peter Crane

What I remember above all is the warmth and friendliness around me”

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Many white residents of the city had hunkered down in their homes afraid it was going to be an occasion of violence and looting.

I wanted to be with the marchers, expressing solidarity with their aims - not hiding in my home.

Several things stand out in my mind about the march. One was the festival atmosphere, the overwhelming happiness of the crowd.

This was not an angry gathering, but a celebratory one.

What I remember above all is the warmth and friendliness around me. Maybe it was because it gladdened the hearts of some marchers to see young whites in solidarity with them.

March on Washington Peter says people took a sense of moral power from King's speech.

Something enormously impressive was the seemingly endless procession of chartered buses, rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue past the Washington Monument, with signs proclaiming where they were from and where they were headed.

These people had taken their lives in their hands to drive through the South en route to Washington, with banners that made clear who they were and where they were going.

The cities named on the sides of the buses were a roll call of the places where the battle for civil rights was being fought out.

To anyone too young to remember it, it is hard to imagine just how segregated America was in those days, and what it meant on a day-to-day level.

I remember going to a birthday party when I was seven or eight years old. We were turned away from an amusement park because the birthday boy was an African-American child called Paul.

The thing that we took away from that day in 1963 was not one speech. It was a sense of moral power and political resolve - not just of leaders but of ordinary people - that was not going to be stopped.

March on Washington The "seemingly endless procession" of chartered buses was impressive, says Peter.

Kimete Mitrovica-Basha, 60, NGO director, Brussels, Belgium

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Kimete Mitrovica-Basha

My father, like King, had a dream for his children”

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I was 10 years old and living in Melbourne, Australia, when Martin Luther King intoned the words that electrified the thousands of marchers who had gathered in Washington.

I was too young to understand why my father - an Albanian-Kosovar intellectual - cried. I would have to wait several years to understand that King's dream was my father's dream, and that very soon, it would become mine.

My parents arrived in Australia after the Second World War. My father was exiled to a meat packing factory to feed his seven children.

We were not excluded because of colour but we were trapped by searing poverty. We lived in our own "lonely island of poverty" amid an "ocean of material prosperity".

Kimete Mitrovica-Basha's family Kimete's parents - pictured centre and right - moved to Australia in 1949

I have a very vivid memory of my first day of school.

When the teacher asked my name and my mother responded, the teacher shook her head and said, "That's not going to do." So my first experience of the world outside home was that even my name didn't fit.

My father, like King, had a dream for his children.

He had a dream that his children would one day live in a place where they would not be judged by the accents their parents could not lose or the distance that separated them from their ancestral home, but by the "content of their character".

My father realised the real limitations for us in Australia after my elder sister was unable to get a scholarship to university. In 1969 he took my family to Canada so we could have access to university education.

My father, like King, did not get to the mountaintop with his children - one a Harvard professor, another an award-winning reporter, another a pioneer in corporate social responsibility and yet another a director of an NGO devoted to bringing books to children.

But King's dream - my father's dream - continues to inspire us in all that we do.

Eden Richardson, 24, college student, New York City

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I had the opportunity to move away from racial stereotypes”

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We have come a long way from where we were when King made his speech.

But we still have some way to go before we get to the dream.

It depends where you are in the US. As a mixed-race person, I don't have any problems in New York City. When I lived in rural New Hampshire I would get funny looks from people.

Eden Richardson Eden says all children should have the same opportunities

Some people would cross to the other side of the street when they saw me.

I had the opportunity to move away from racial stereotypes, to study to be a photographer and to travel.

That was partly because I was given the opportunity by an education foundation to go to a private boarding school.

In the neighbourhood I grew up in people were mainly black or from the West Indies. They were from poor backgrounds and they tended to stay poor.

At boarding school I was one of around eight students of colour. I remember when I grew my hair out people thought I was wearing a wig.

The other students made a lot of assumptions about us, imagining we all played basketball or liked certain types of music. Even the black students who had come from other countries were making these kind of assumptions about us.

So for me, the most important part of King's speech is where he says he wants his children to grow up in a country where they have the same opportunity as everyone else. We are not there yet.

Interviews by Nathan Williams, BBC News

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