Mike Longo has proud memories of watching Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as a 12 or 13 year old on Aug. 28, 1963.
"But today, it's a disgrace, because tomorrow we're going to war," said Longo.
King's speech, the climax of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, galvanized public opinion and helped the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act a year later.
Fifty years later, thousands gathered on a humid, often rainy day at the National Mall to say there is still progress to be made in America.
Joshua Lopez, a New York City native, said he felt as though being at the gathering meant marking his presence in history.
"This is like the best day of my life. This is like a historical moment. If I had been born 50 years ago I would have been at that march. It's a big moment," he said.
Lopez held a collage of news clippings set against a bright orange background conveying law enforcement corruption across the country, especially in New York City.
"There's a lot of young black and Hispanic men that can't find jobs, maybe because of their criminal record and a lot of times they're forced to sell drugs or start robbing, and I'm not saying that's the right way to live your live, but sometimes they feel like their hands are tied," he said.
He was optimistic that 50 years after Martin Luther King's speech, Wednesday's anniversary could have a positive impact on civility in America.
"Let's change the way we treat each other. The old way wasn't working, so it's on us to do what we got to do now."
Though Kellie Duck was not alive to see King's speech, she drove her daughters down from Souderton, Pa. so that they could experience a piece of history.
"I just wanted to show that we can be united in everything we do," she said.
"We should be equal," her daughter Kayla added. "What Dr. King brought to us, trying to be equals, and then having the president come out here and kind of give the same message, it means a lot."
For Valor Breez from Williamstown, Mass., the anniversary for the March on Washington would mark a stark decline from the height of the civil rights movement.
"We've gone backwards. What we have achieved is a better way of making it look like we have achieved the MLK dream," said Breez.
"I think that there will be a wonderful photo op for history, and I don't discount that…there are still black people that still need to believe that they should strive above their impoverished situations, and they should still fight to be the next Obama. "
Luc Nya flew from Portland, Maine to Washington on Tuesday for an unrelated vacation he had booked months in advance. He was pleasantly surprised that his trip coincided with the march.
For him, the March on Washington was special because of its role in creating the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. Nya has seen several large-scale protests and marches for a number of causes over the years, and the march was, to his recollection, the only one that had birthed meaningful legislation.
"This is making history," he said. "I think that this, the voice of the masses, plays a significant role, and I'm happy that I'm part of it."
Vivian Drayton from Philadelphia said that although America continues to deal with disparities in education, race and child welfare, the population that gathered on the mall Wednesday has come a long way from those that were present in 1963.
"It's clear there has been some major changes," she said. "There's more to be done, and it's good to see that more people are willing to do it."