"It was emotional for me because I was a part of that America he was speaking ," Nicholas said.
He grew up in Mississippi, one of 10 children born to a sharecropper and his wife. He recalled as a child having hooded Ku Klux Klansmen outside his home.
King, Nicholas said, "was speaking to the issues that were everyone's issues. When he talked about black boys and white boys and the 'all of us' concept that galvanized everybody."
After the march, King asked the leadership of Nicholas' union when he would see someone at the top that looks like him, Nicholas recalled.
In 1981, Nicholas became president of the national union of which 1199C is a local chapter. He still heads 1199C, working both jobs out of its Center City office seven days a week with no vacation, by choice.
"The most important thing I learned from Martin was if a person hasn't found anything worth dying for, then that person isn't worthy of living," Nicholas said.
Tomorrow morning, Nicholas, his family and 1,500 union members will return Washington to mark the 50th anniversary of the march. He was a speaker at the 25th anniversary celebration.
The march "had a tremendous impact on our status in America," Nicholas said.
The Rev. William Moore will never forget the power of King's speech.
"He said for me that day what I could not say for myself," said Moore, who leads the Tenth Memorial Baptist Church in North Philadelphia. "He collected the feelings and passion of people around the country and expressed it in a very profound and simple way."
Moore was 21 then, a sophomore at Fayetteville State College who was working in Washington to earn enough money to complete the next year of school. But he knew all too well - growing up in the South - the sting of racism and inequality in America.
He remembers the "White Only" and "Colored Only" signs that hung above bathroom entrances and on restaurants in North Carolina. He recalled how demeaning it was when a waitress declined to serve him a hamburger, fries and milkshake at a diner because of his skin color.
"Our parents and pastors told us we were somebody and rather than become bitter, we worked against the odds," Moore said. "The things that crush you can make you whole."
And in a way, that's what happened on Aug. 28, 1963.
"It was a coming together of what we were fighting for and longing for," Moore said, noting the crowd consisted of people of all hues. "It was a sign and symbol that things could get better and would."
Moore will also travel back to Washington for the 50th anniversary, with his 31-year-old son.
"I would hope that in some way there would be a recapturing of focus and purpose to the remaining parts of the battle we have not won yet."
Richard "Dick" Cox, then 29 and an associate pastor of the Harlem Metropolitan United Methodist Church, led five busloads of supporters to the march.
The sea of people on the mall filled him with joy.
"I looked back and saw nothing but people, peace and love," said Cox. "It was one of the highlights of my life."
He also says he'll never forget that "firebrand message" delivered by then 23-year-old John Lewis, who later became a Georgia congressman, or "the spirit that moved through the crowd."
Cox, who is white, was introduced to the civil-rights movement in 1957 when his seminary professor took him to Birmingham, Ala.
Although times have changed, Cox acknowledged the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman who fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager, and said, "The fight for justice is not over."
Cox, a former vice president of the William Penn Foundation, member and former board president of Center in the Park senior community center, will also return to Washington for the 50th anniversary.
"It will be moving to see an African-American president standing where we were calling for equality and equal opportunity," Cox said. The Jim Crow era "was just a horrendous part of our history and, as my life winds down, I'm happy I was able to be there ."
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