In the summer of 1963, hundreds of thousands across the nation converged on Washington, D.C. to march for jobs and freedom.
Meanwhile, back in St. Louis, local civil rights activists were gearing up for a demonstration of their own: a picket line and sit-in at Jefferson Bank, also calling for equal employment for African Americans. Despite being located in an African American neighborhood, the only African Americans employed by the bank worked as janitors.
The March on Washington provided momentum and added fervor for the Jefferson Bank demonstrations, said St. Louis civil rights activist Percy Green.
"It just happened that we had a project in place, and so many of the students and some of the other folks that were highly energized came on and joined us," said Green. "And we had a tremendous number of folks on that first day, which was Friday, August 30, 1963."
Retired St. Louis Public Schools teacher Billie Morrison was a participant in both the March on Washington and the Jefferson Bank demonstrations. She was fourteen at the time.
"The fact that I was even there was an accident," said Morrison of the March in Washington. A friend of the family paid her way after finding out that her father had already paid for her mother to attend.
For Morrison, taking a trip out of St. Louis was more novel than attending a demonstration. She had attended picket lines and sit-ins with her mother before, but had never left the city.
It wasn't until the bus stopped at a restaurant in Maryland that the importance of the event really sank in for her.
"The lady told us 'we don't serve colored here' but then a gentleman from the bus threw a 50 dollar bill on the table and said 'I want some ham and eggs quick.' And I guess she felt green overrode black because that was the fastest service we ever had," said Morrison. "And that's when I think it hit me what was going on."
Local attorney Leslie Broadnax, 36, is part of a new generation of civil rights activists. In July she organized a rally protesting the not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman case, in which Zimmerman was accused of killing Trayvon Martin, a South Florida teenager.
Broadnax, last week, co-organized a bus trip to Washington, D.C. to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
"I've come back with a sense of urgency. Things need to be done, and they need to be done yesterday," said Broadnax.
Fifty years after Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech, civil rights activists both young and old agree that more needs to be done to make the dream a reality.
"We're only partially there," said Billie Morrison. "Anytime you have a case like Trayvon Martin...Anytime I can go somewhere and have people look at me like I don't belong there (you know we have not achieved the dream yet)."
Other guests joining the discussion included:
- St. Louis pediatrician Dr. Huldah Blamoville, M.D., who attended the March on Washington and is a member of a federal committee working to reduce the disparities in health care among minorities
- Attorney Chris Hexter who participated in the Jefferson Bank demonstrations in 1963 and Freedom Summer in 1964