WASHINGTON - Fifty years ago in segregated America, Eleanor Holmes Norton could have never imagined she would one day represent the US capital as a black congresswoman.
Norton was 26 years old and working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee when more than 250,000 people converged on Washington to march with Martin Luther King Jr for civil rights.
"The last thing I imagined was anything connected with service in the government," Norton told AFP from her office in the US House of Representatives ahead of celebrations commemorating the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.
"Government didn't stand for anything positive," she added, explaining the blatant racism present in Congress at the time.
As a Yale University student, Norton was involved in a risky effort to register African Americans as voters in the state of Mississippi, a southern bastion of the Ku Klux Klan with a long history of racism.
Ahead of the march, Norton helped organise the event, setting up transportation to Washington and mobilizing participants by telephone from a dilapidated building in the New York City neighborhood of Harlem.
"We had spent 10 years in demonstrations that had swept through every single Southern state," Norton said.
"There were no remedies in the South. The seat of power, the nation's capital, was the only source of remedies and we thought that 10 years of demonstrations and protests and boycotts of every kind had prepared for that."