Reggie Tobias, left, and Walter Robinson, members of the security staff at the National Shrine, participated in the March on Washington 50 years ago. (CS photo by Michael Hoyt)
Reggie Tobias, left, and Walter Robinson, members of the security staff at the National Shrine, participated in the March on Washington 50 years ago. (CS photo by Michael Hoyt)
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Fifty years ago this month, Reggie Tobias participated in one of the most famous marches in U.S. history - on his bike.

Tobias, who is now 67, is a native Washingtonian and serves as the assistant supervisor for security at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where he has worked for the past 13 years after a 33-year career with the D.C. Department of Public Works.

Early on the morning of the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963, Tobias and his three best friends bicycled down to the Lincoln Memorial. "We knew what was happening in the South... We went to see what was going on. We were curious. When we got there, seeing all those thousands of people, it was amazing, all around the Reflecting Pool, all the way down. It was a sight I'll never forget."

For the 17 year old, venturing there around 8 a.m. not only got them a prime viewing spot. "We went on the right side of the Lincoln Memorial. That's where I met a lot of stars. I met Burt Lancaster, Lena Horne, Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. I shook their hands. Burt Lancaster rubbed my head."

The star-struck teen remembers seeing a lot of nuns in the crowd. From his vantage point, he saw the back of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s head. The youth was transfixed by the civil rights leader's dream of a world, with "black kids and white kids in harmony and peace one day. That's what shook me."

He remembers that after Dr. King's speech, the crowd "stood up and waved like this, side by side." He smiled and remembered his immediate concern at the time: "I had trouble getting my bike out of there!"

Tobias no longer has that bike. At the time of the march, he and his family attended St. Luke Parish in Washington. Now he and his wife of 42 years, Mary, are members of Holy Redeemer Parish in the city. The National Shrine has become his second home. "This is a holy place. It's like another world," he said.

And he said he hopes the message of the March on Washington and Dr. King's dream will be taken to heart by Americans today. "We need to live it, you know."

'It was my duty'

Walter Robinson has lived a life where he has been faithful to the call of duty - duty to his country, duty to his family and duty to God.

Now 92, he has worked as a security guard at the National Shrine for the past 22 years. He and his late wife, Adell, have four children, four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Over the years, he has worshipped in Baptist and Methodist churches, and now he feels blessed to serve at the shrine. "I'm working because I want to stay active," he said.

On Aug. 28, 1963, he was 42 and working as a medical technician at Army Medical Center - the old Walter Reed Hospital. During World War II, he served as a combat medic with the Buffalo Soldiers Division, the nickname for the 92nd Infantry Division, an all-black unit of soldiers who fought as part of the 5th Army in Italy.

He joined the crowds of people marching together through the city of Washington as part of the March on Washington, and stood among them as they heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his stirring "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

"They kept coming in," Robinson said of the crowd. "It was my duty to back him (Dr. King) up. It was for freedom, and to update the situation of minorities and underprivileged people."

The march and Dr. King's speech, he said, "touched me because of what I had witnessed, being in the Army. I was drafted. I went in there to fight for freedom."

Now 50 years after that historic march, he said there is still a need "to bring people closer together," so people of different backgrounds can recognize the humanity in each other, and stand together in the effort to provide more jobs and opportunities for the underprivileged in our United States of America.

'I get chills now'

Two years ago, the National Shrine hosted an interfaith prayer service to mark the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, and Charles Carroll Sr. felt blessed to be one of the Knights of Columbus serving as volunteer ushers then. In August 1963 as a 15 year old, he had car-pooled with fellow high school students from suburban Maryland to the nation's capital, where they joined the March on Washington and heard Dr. King give his "I Have a Dream" speech."

"I get chills now, thinking about it," he said before the prayer service, as he reflected on the historic event he had witnessed as a teenager.

In a recent interview, Carroll said he still gets chills when he thinks about taking part in the march and hearing Dr. King. He stood along the Reflecting Pool 50 years ago with 15-20 friends from Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro. "The way he spoke to people of nonviolence is totally different from the way people talk today," said Carroll, who noted how many young people today are caught in the web of violence. And Carroll also noted how tragic it was that Dr. King himself died five years later, the victim of the violence that the Nobel Peace Prize winner so often spoke out against.

Carroll grew up in Holy Family Parish in Mitchellville, Md., and now is a member of another Holy Family Parish, in Dale City, Va. Now 65, he and his wife Beverly have three grown children and five grandchildren. He retired in 2009 after working as a mechanical engineer for the Arlington County government.

The National Shrine usher said that Dr. King was a man of God. "Faith is what kept him in the direction he was going," he said, and it was that faith that moved Dr. King to believe "we shall overcome."