She was the face of civil rights, but didn't know it

She was the face of civil rights, but didn't know it

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - Do you remember what you did for your 12th birthday? Edith Lee Payne, of Detroit, said she could never forget. Soon, the world will be able to see the banner she waved during the March on Washington on her 12th birthday, more than 50 years ago.

Payne recalled she and her family took a greyhound bus to D.C., then hopped in her aunt's '63 Impala and drove down to the Mall.

"I knew I was a part of something important, I just didn't know how historic it was going to be," she said

For nearly 50 years, a soulful picture of Edith Lee-Payne, her face next to a banner, embodied the hope and truth of a nation of young black people. However, Payne didn't even know about the picture until 8 years ago, when she saw her face on a calendar alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass.

"I refused to believe it was me because it was just unimaginable that it would be me, Edith Lee-Payne, on a calendar with these famous people from history," she said.

But, it was. Payne visited D.C. once again and stood in the shadow of King, telling her story to the National Park Service. Her famous picture graces the MLK Memorial's brochure. Since that day 53 years ago, she's lived an impressive life of service.

“Seeing the picture, and learning about the picture,” she said. “Because I'm a civil rights activist today, confirmed for me that I'm living my destiny."

Payne is in town to donate the famous banner she held in that picture to the new National Museum of African American History and Culture.

"For me, it's bringing it back home to its origins. It started here in Washington, D.C., and it's going back home where it should be," she said.

Payne will deliver the banner to museum officials Saturday afternoon. It still has the staples in it from when she attached it to her school report outlining what she did that summer.

The museum is set to open on Sept. 24.


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