On MLK Day, Dr. King's message still resonates, inspires generations of Americans

Edith Lee-Payne was 12-years-old when she attended the March on Washington, and heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s infamous "I Have A Dream" speech.

As people across the country and around the world celebrate MLK Day, Lee-Payne's story is one that is a reminder of the impact the civil rights leader and activist had on our history as a nation.

FOX 5 Photojournalist Van Applegate met Lee-Payne in August, 2018 as she came to visit the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, D.C.

She recalls standing not far from the iconic civil rights activist by the Lincoln Memorial, as he delivered his inspiring message over 55 years ago.

"I was standing to the right not too far from the media was, behind the fence. So yeah I was quite close, I was near the front," she says.

That day, which also happened to be her birthday, was an incredible moment in American history.

Lee-Payne took Dr. King's powerful words to heart through the years, living by his example while growing up in Detroit.

"It was a pillar moment. It was a large crowd of people, but I understood why I was here. Because I grew up in Detroit, Michigan. Liberty and justice was not for all. It was for me, but not for other people that looked like me," she tells Applegate.

It was not until 2008 that she discovered a photo of herself from that historic day in a Black History calendar.

The photo was taken by Rowland Scherman, a freelance photographer whose images chronicled the day.

Her photograph without her knowledge had become iconic, featured in history books and commemorative publications.

She was the "poster child" — quite literally, for the March on Washington and the civil rights movement.

Lee-Payne has gone on to work as a civil rights activist herself, inspired by her mother and Dr. King to push for equal opportunity for others.

Now at 67, Lee-Payne says seeing her photograph as an actual part of "Black History" on that momentous day, was validating. She said she was reminded she was truly living her "life's purpose."

Lee-Payne says she hopes for a better future for her eight grandchildren.

"I owe it to them and their contemporaries to you try to make this place a better place as Dr. King and others tried to do for us."

The pennant that Lee-Payne was seen carrying in the famous photo is now on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.