A day that changed America

(CBS News) I was still a newspaper reporter in Fort Worth when Martin Luther King Jr. spoke that day. I watched it all on television with wonder and relief.

Wonder at the power of his words . . . relief that it had all gone so peacefully.

By then, I considered myself an enlightened person on race. But I had grown up in Jim Crow Texas, where whites and blacks lived in worlds separate in ways large and small.

I never shook hands with a black person until I was in the Air Force -- not that I didn't want to, I just never had the occasion. They lived on one side of town, I lived on the other.

Schools were still mostly segregated, and the newspaper where I worked generally ignored news about black people.

Special section: MLK's dream: 50 years later

Civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (second from left) walks with supporters during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963, after which, King delivered the "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
AFP/AFP/Getty Images

White people were not accustomed to seeing so many black people in one place as converged in Washington that day. So it made them nervous -- they worried it could turn into a race riot, a concern we later learned was shared by President Kennedy.

It did not turn into a race riot. Instead, it was a turning point in American history, a day that changed America, not just for African Americans, but for all of us.

I know. I was there back in the olden days.

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    Bob Schieffer is a CBS News political contributor and former anchor of "Face The Nation," which he moderated for 24 years before retiring in 2015.