Fifty years ago, tens of thousands of buses, cars, trains and chartered planes converged on Washington for the biggest civil rights rally in U.S. history. Movie stars flew in from Hollywood; high school kids caught rides from across the Deep South. There were more than a quarter-million people in all who assembled on the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation to fulfill the unfinished mission of forming a more perfect union. “I have a dream!” declared the final speaker, in an address that lifted the spirit of a generation.
To commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic speech, TIME talked to 17 people who were at the march that day. John Lewis spoke alongside King from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Joan Baez and Peter Yarrow stirred the crowd through song. Harry Belafonte led a group of celebrities to attend in support. Robert Avery, a teenager, hitchhiked with two friends from Alabama. Some were experienced activists—freedom rider Hank Thomas and Bob Zellner, the rebellious son of a Klansman who took up civil rights work in the Deep South—while others, like Maxine Allen Johnson Wood, were fresh out of college and looking to make a difference. Photographer Bob Adelman was there to document history; King’s lawyer and speechwriter Clarence B. Jones had a hand in drafting it.
Our One Dream project brings together these singular voices to tell not just the story of Aug. 28, 1963—the day when King told the world about his dream—but of the movement that inspired his words and the legacy that lives on.