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Philadelphian Who Attended Martin Luther King, Jr’s Original Speech Recalls Momentous Event

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By Oren Liebermann

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The “I Have A Dream” speech has stood the test of time as one of the most important and powerful speeches ever given.

Reverend Robert Polk was there on the Mall 50 years ago, three-quarters of the way back along the reflecting pool.

“There was just a sense of fellowship and an upbeat nature to the whole experience,” he recalls.

At the time, Polk was working in youth ministry in New York. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. had spoken three or four times at his church. But on that day in 1963, he says he did not realize the full impact of King’s speech. That would take months.

“I began to realize that this was a real issue that we had to confront and be aware of,” Polk says.

Polk dedicated his life to race relations and social justice. Half a century after “I Have A Dream,” Polk says progress is slow. Too slow.

“We’re still in very bad shape in terms of our nation. Most Americans don’t have friends from other races, for example.”

Now 85 years old, Polk says it is time for new leaders to emerge and keep working to make King’s dream a reality.

“There has to be some incentive to get the younger generation involved. They’re not going to get involved just because academically, and in our heads, we think they should do these things.”

Polk says King would be disappointed at the lack of progress if he were alive today, but hopeful that his speech and his dream will continue to inspire the younger generation.