Bayard Rustin is "the most important leader of the civil rights movement you probably have never heard of," as LZ Granderson put it in his recent CNN column. Not only did he organize the march in a matter of months, Rustin is credited with teaching King about nonviolence. He also helped raise funds for the Montgomery bus boycott and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Council.
During the time, his sexual orientation was known, and he was often in the background to prevent it from being used against the movement.
Fifty years after the march, Rustin, who died in 1987, will be honored with a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in November.
It wasn't the first planned 'March on Washington'
Labor leader and civil rights advocate A. Philip Randolph had threatened a "March for Freedom" on the National Mall in 1941 to pressure then-President Franklin Roosevelt to provide equal opportunity for defense jobs. Randolph hired Rustin to organize part of the march, which they felt was the only way to prompt action after numerous appeals.
It worked: The march was called off after Roosevelt established the Fair Employment Practices Committee, abolishing racial discrimination in hiring.
The march was a Hollywood star-studded event
Popular actor and singer Harry Belafonte used his star power to help bring other celebrities to the March on Washington. Besides reaching out to the stars themselves, Belafonte went to many of the studio heads in Hollywood to get prominent actors and actresses temporarily released from their duties so they could participate.
He was successful. The Hollywood list of attendees that day read like a who's who of A-listers: Marlon Brando, Sidney Poitier, Lena Horne, Sammy Davis Jr., Charlton Heston and Burt Lancaster, who also gave a speech.
But having the Hollywood stars there wasn't just for show or for increased media attention. It also helped calm President John F. Kennedy's nerves about the march.
"I believe that their presence did a lot to assuage people who were preoccupied with the fact there could be violence," Belafonte said.
"One of the things that I said in my conversations with the Kennedys in discussing why they should be more yielding in their support of our demonstration was the fact that there would be such a presence of highly profiled artists -- that that alone would put anxiety to rest," he added.
"People would be looking at the occasion in a far more festive way."
One march worker fell asleep during MLK's speech
Back in 1963, college student Patricia Worthy took a job answering phones for the March on Washington's planning office. She had 10 phone lines to answer, and they rang from the time she walked in until she left for the day.
"I recall one day I'll never forget, I heard someone say, 'Where is this young lady who handles the phone?' And finally I looked up, and there he was -- Dr. King -- and he said, 'I want to meet this young lady. She has put me on the hold twice, and hung up on me once, and I want to know who she is.' "
Worthy said she was "so embarrassed," but then the civil rights icon gave her a hug.
By the day of the march, she was so tired, she dozed off and accidentally slept through the historic march and the "I Have a Dream" speech.
Everything worked out for her in the end: Worthy had a successful legal career and now teaches law at Howard University.
Another hitchhiked all the way from Alabama only to have MLK check in on him
Robert Avery and two of his friends hitchhiked nearly 700 miles from Gadsden, Ala., to Washington to participate in the march.
Avery, who was 15 years old at the time, was no stranger to the dark side of the civil rights movement. A few months earlier, he was struck by a cattle prod wielded by Alabama police during anti-segregation demonstrations in Gadsden.
The three youths arrived in the nation's capital a week before the march after three days of hitchhiking, and they were put to work making signs for the event.
At one point, King walked in and asked for them. He had been in Gadsden the night before, and their parents had asked the civil rights leader to check on them.
King sat down with the three and talked to them for about 20 minutes, asking them about their dreams, Avery later recalled.