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Philadelphia resident remembers March on Washington as 60th anniversary approaches

Philadelphia resident remembers March on Washington as 60th anniversary approaches
Philadelphia resident remembers March on Washington as 60th anniversary approaches 03:09

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Monday is the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

But there was much more to the march, Philadelphia resident James Kelsh Jr., who was there, said.

Sitting in his rocking chair, he remembered the voice of the iconic gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who wowed the crowd. 

"Oh god, it was moving," Kelsh said.

"I remember her voice. Oh, she was…such a strong, resourceful voice. She could move mountains," Kelsh added.

Her voice touched hundreds of thousands of people who gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963.

"I was there, got my pin," Kelsh said.

CBS News Philadelphia

Jackson opened for what was officially called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, one of the largest political gatherings in U.S. history.

"It was the buzz of the Black community that there would be this march. And it was coupled with labor, labor unions. The unions were behind the march totally," Kelsh said.

Kelsh was 25 years old at the time.

He and his wife both graduated from Howard University.


"We fell in love our senior year. And she was May Queen. Oh! She was beautiful," Kelsh said.

And while at Howard, Kelsh also fell in love with the teachings of civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, who died on the eve of the March on Washington.

"The event was very bittersweet for me," Kelsh said. "He was my hero."

But then Kelsh's face lit up recalling the moment that everyone waited for, a reverend who 60 years later still had need no for introduction.

King was the last speaker.

RELATED: Philadelphia pastor reflects on meeting MLK and 60 years after March on Washington: "We still have a lot of work to do"

"I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom of our nation," King began.

King's words forever left an impact on Kelsh.

"I just remember, his whole speech was very inspiring and uplifting. And when he ended the speech by saying: 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last,' we all jumped up."

Now 60 years later, Kelsh feels proud to see how far King's legacy has changed the landscape of America. Much like the sweet harmony of Mahalia Jackson on Aug. 28 1963.

Tune in to the "Still Marching" special on CBS News Philadelphia

Monday night at 7 p.m. on CBS News Philadelphia, Ukee Washington will host an hour-long special called "Still Marching."

It will be held 60 years to the day that King delivered the "I Have a Dream" speech.

And if you're watching here on our streaming channel, you can catch the special early!

You can see it wherever CBS News Philadelphia is streaming, and throughout the entire weekend.

The special airs:
Friday - 6:30 p.m.
Saturday - 2 p.m., 8 p.m.
Sunday - 10 a.m., 3 p.m., 10 p.m.
Monday - 7 p.m.  

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