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TYLER, TX (KLTV) -
East Texas leaders are sharing why the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington is so important to them.
Between 200,000 and 250,000 people participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug. 28, 1963.
Some of the demands included the passage of meaningful civil rights legislation, which was stalled in Congress that summer.
Also, people were marching for the elimination of racial segregation in public schools and protection for demonstrators against police brutality.
For Reverend Orenthia Mason of Tyler, Dr. King's speech meant that every generation that came after would have opportunities for success that weren't imagined before that day.
"The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King is the fact that we must continue to dream, as he had a dream that was a vision for all of us that children might not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character," Mason said.
The march was also one of the first national events to have extensive television coverage, something Tyler City Councilman Darryl Bowdre, who was in the first grade in August 1963, still remembers 50 years later.
"As a child, the impression was there had never been that many African Americans on television at one time, in primetime," he said. "And that was a thing of pride."
Both Mason and Bowdre were children when the March on Washington was held 50 years ago.
And they said that while they didn't understand the political and social significance of the day then, it has shaped their views on life in the years to come.
"There is no excuse. There is no excuse for excellence," Mason said. "Excellence should be the option we select in our lives. As he marched and died and fought that we might have this right to be successful in any endeavor, then excuse - actually, failure is not an option."
"It was the power of Dr. King's words," Bowdre remembered. "It was his fervor with which he spoke, as well as the charisma that he had that brought that many people together for one purpose."
Mason and Bowdre said Dr. King's speech defined who we wanted to be as a country -- and still defines who we can and should be in the years to come.
"His speech spoke futuristically in a lot of phrases because it was talking about a dream," Bowdre said. "And he made it personal. I think for maybe the first time, white America saw that what black America wanted was not so much different from what they wanted."
"Fifty years from now, I would hope that racism no longer exists, that because you're intelligent, because you have prepared yourself for any occupation in life, that you will be honored to receive that occupation, not because of color but because you are qualified," Mason said.