DETROIT -- When Americans celebrate Black History, especially when it has anything to do with the March on Washington, it's often an innocent girl's face they see -- in textbooks, on calendars, on brochures.
The photo of this little girl was taken by a freelance photographer working for the U.S. government. The original is stored in the National Archives, where for decades its caption identified the girl simply as a "young child in March on Washington."
But the nameless child is anonymous no more. Thanks to her own research and the work of staff at the National Archives, an identifying notation was added to the file.
That girl, who was 12 then, is 60-year-old Edith Lee-Payne of Detroit, a community activist, who in her own way continues to try to turn the dream that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of into a reality.
"It's very humbling and very overwhelming still to know that my face is associated with the historic March on Washington and with Dr. King, and that it has touched so many people," said Lee-Payne.
Currently, her photo is on a National Park Service brochure given to visitors to the King Memorial in Washington, D.C.
As an adult, Lee-Payne's face and voice are well-known in the halls and meeting rooms of Detroit government where she often speaks on behalf of Detroiters, advocating for stronger safety measures, better public transportation and other improvements in the city.
It doesn't surprise those who know her that, even as a child, Lee-Payne made a mark.
"She is very passionate about Detroit and has always been someone who actively advocates for what she believes is in the best interest of its residents," says City Councilman James Tate, who has known Lee-Payne for about 10 years. "She is not just a part of history, but she is one of those individuals who is keeping that same spirit alive today."
Lee-Payne, who spent most of her working life as an independent real estate saleswoman, suspects that desire to speak up about perceived wrongs was laid as a child when her mother took her to civil rights marches. The first one she remembers attending is the Freedom March in June of 1963 in Detroit when King previewed what would become his most famous speech.
She remembers King imploring those in attendance to meet him in Washington that August. Her mother decided they would do so. Lee-Payne remembers riding a Greyhound bus from Detroit to D.C. and being able to get near the front of the crowd because one of her aunts was a Red Cross volunteer trained to assist people on that sweltering hot day.
Photographer Rowland Scherman, 74, then a 26-year-old freelancer working for the now-defunct USIA (United States Information Agency), remembers the day and the anonymous "young child in March on Washington" well. Scherman, now based in Cape Cod, Mass., has taken photos all over the world, including another popular photo that is the cover of Bob Dylan's "Greatest Hits" album.
Although Lee-Payne and Scherman are both featured in the National Archives video about the photo, they have never met.
Lee-Payne visited the National Archives last October to see the original photos; three in all, including two with her mom, Dorothy Lee, who passed away in 1993.
It's rare that researchers at the archives meet the unknown people in the photographs, said Rutha Beamon, the archivist who showed Lee-Payne the photos when she visited. The caption with the photos will remain anonymous because official documents cannot be altered, Beamon said.
But Lee-Payne's name and information about her was typed onto a document and added to the box containing the photos.
"It's very rare that that happens," Beamon said of additions to the vault to identify anonymous people. "I've been here 23, almost 24 years, and I know of it being done maybe four times."
Earlier this month, Lee-Payne was the featured speaker during a Black History Month program at the Detroit School of Arts, a high school where one of her eight grandchildren, Destiny Payne, 14, is a freshman.
Principal Rita Davis said she thought it important to invite Lee-Payne so students can see that history makers are people just like them.
"Students need to understand, they can be making history at any given moment at any given time," Davis said.
The video featuring Detroiter Edith Lee-Payne is part of a series created by the National Archives to take the public on a virtual journey "Inside the Vaults," the title of the project.
It's part of the ongoing National Archives effort to give the public a more intimate acquaintance with its collections, the stories behind them and the people who work there.
The video featuring Lee-Payne, whose childhood face has become one the prominent images of the March on Washington, is one of 30 produced thus far. The project began in July 2010.
Earlier topics include the conservation of the original Declaration of Independence, the new Grace Tully collection of documents at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and the launch of the archives' new search engine.
All of the films are free to view and distribute on the YouTube channel of the National Archives at http://tiny.cc/Vaults.
AN UNKNOWN AMONG THE FAMOUS
"What?!" Edith Lee-Payne of Detroit shouted into the phone.
"I'm on a Black History Month calendar? With Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Dr. King and Jesse Owens?
"Why would my picture be with these very famous people?" Lee-Payne asked her cousin calling from Baltimore.
Lee-Payne didn't believe it until she saw the calendar herself. And there she was -- her unidentified face -- among well-known faces in black history.
The 60-year-old community activist had played a role in history for decades without even knowing it.
She had attended the March on Washington with her mother on her 12th birthday in 1963. A freelance photographer took a picture of her, staring ahead with intent eyes, sad but hopeful of a brighter future for people whose skin was dark like hers.
The photo became an iconic image of the civil rights movement.
"I was both humbled and shocked," she said.
Lee-Payne tracked the photo to the National Archives and learned that her image had been reproduced countless times in textbooks, calendars, brochures and other publications.
This year, staff at the National Archives produced a video about the image, featuring Lee-Payne and photographer Rowland Scherman, then 26, now 74.
"I remember seeing her face. It stood out because here's this cute little face, so beautiful and yet so earnest and serious," said Scherman.
The three-minute video is part of an ongoing National Archives effort to bring history alive.