Fifty years ago today, 250,000 people marched on Washington for civil rights. At least two of them were from Acton, Massachusetts.  And though these two individuals remain largely unknown,  their legacy is imprinted in the demographic transformation of the town itself.

In 1963, two young white Episcopal ministers from Massachusetts disembarked from a Greyhound bus  in Washington and made their way to the reflecting pool on the National Mall-following a trail of thousands on the same journey.  The ministers were greeted by a reporter:

Wooten: My name is Roger Wooten from Acton, Mass.

Lancier: Dean Lancier from Acton, Mass.

Reporter: And you’re both clergymen?

Wooten: That’s right.

Reporter: What made you come to Washington?

Wooten: Well, we’re very much interested in supporting the civil rights movement, I think, Dean. Is that right?

Lancier: Yes, that’s right. As I told our church this I believe in and, therefore, that’s why I’m here.

Reporter: What was the reaction of your parishioners?

Lancier: Mixed.

Reporter: Very mixed?

Lancier: Yes.

Reporter: Do you think any of them...This will be a church crisis in any way?

Lancier: No, I don’t think so.

Wooten:I don’t think it would be a church crisis. As a matter of fact, those folks who seem to be or have what you would call a mixed reaction, seem to feel it was the thing to do no matter what.

In 2003, on the 40th anniversary of the march, I interviewed then 88-year-old Roger Wooten.  One particular memory from the march seemed to wash over the octogenarian clergyman like summer rain when he recalled a special group of civil rights activists:

"It was just a small group of people. About six of them, perhaps. And they were all from Danville, Virginia. Danville, Virginia was one of the most cruel places where people were suffering terribly in their efforts to get civil rights made available to black people And you knew damn well that when they returned to Danville that their lives were really going to be seriously in danger. And I think to myself, what a heroic group of people they were."

The experience would affirm Wooten’s determination to help alter America’s social landscape, but it was not just the bitter broken South that Wooten hoped to change with his presence in Washington, D.C. Acton was not Danville, but change was needed nevertheless, said Wooten. 

For three decades he worked in trying to integrate his virtually all white community here in the northeast. For years there were only two black families in Acton: 
"Some of the real estate people in town grew very alarmed when they saw a black family that came and were looking, " he recalled. "We would bring some pressure to bear against any resistance from the real estate people."

Wooten retired from the Good Shepherd Church in Acton, and nearing 99, I'm told by the church he is still doing well. But the town he sought to change is a far cry from the Acton of 1963 and 2003.

Artist Sunanda Sahay was born in northern India. She arrived in Acton from Chicago ten years ago. Her family is one of hundreds of first and second generation South Asian and Chinese families that have settled in Acton.

"I think that was the time the transition was taking place in Acton- around 2003. Since then a lot of Chinese and Indian people have moved here," she said. Since the March of 1963, this  community has grown from 7,000 people to close to 25,000. Much of that growth resulted from an influx of Chinese and Indian families.

Asians make up nearly 20 percent of Acton’s population and they’re still arriving. Sahay said the beacon that drew her and others here is education.

The local schools boasts some of the highest test scores in the state and the Acton-Boxborough school was cited by the U.S. Department of Education among the nation’s best. Steve Mills is the superintendent of school for the Acton-Boxborough school system:
"It’s clearly very attractive. I think what happens now it's been a synergistic effect. I think a lot of Asian communities have moved here over the past 10 or 20 years and now they are experiencing success in this highly competitive public school system, and they encourage relatives from home to come here."

But the schools system's high academic achievement status has also led to tensions, said Sal Lopes, who leads Acton’s No Place for Hate campaign."There's tension there. If you have a number of kids from East Asia that are sort of excelling to the point where white kids are getting shut out, I don't know if there's an undertow there," he said. "I don't know if there's something there, but right now it's being tolerated. Back 10 or 12 years ago it was a non-issue, but it's become an issue."

Superintendent Mills said he doesn’t disagree:

"I would be naive if I didn't tell you that you'll occasionally get a comment that a Caucasian family might say that 25 years ago my kid, with the ability that he or she has, would have ranked third or fourth in the class. And now with such competitive kids who come from Asian countries they're now ranked 35th."

Nancy Banks, the former Acton town manager, said the community has a new cultural reality, but tension is being worked out, not fought over."Acton really represents a success story, and how it is possible for people of many different cultures to come together," she said.But Banks admitted that it is not a complete success because African Americans and Latinos are still barely represented in the town that Rev. Wooten  and Rev. Lancier sought to change.  

The commuter rail slices through Acton. But this Massachusetts town is not so predictably separated or divided by railroad tracks. Divisions here are a lot more subtle, said George Smith, one of a handful of middle class black families here.

"I grew up in a community where there was a railroad tracks demarcation. I don't know of any in Acton. Although there are some people who believe if you live on one side of the town, that you're better off than the people who live in the other part, but I think that's more of a class issue than race."

Smith, a former assistant chancellor at UMass Dartmouth has lived beneath the radar in Acton for more than two decades.

"My experience here has been it's been a welcoming community for African Americans in Acton," he said.

This is an affluent town all around. With a combined average  income of about $133,000, this is a town of engineers, academics, managers, and bosses. And twice it was named among the Best Places To Live in the country by Money Magazine

Who wouldn’t want to raise their kids in a town like this?
"I remember meeting a wonderful family who ultimately left Acton because they did not feel there was enough cultural diversity for their family," said town manager Nancy Banks. "My sense at that time was that people were not fearful of blacks, but for some reason black people did not move to Acton."
Acton’s transformation since 1963 has also triggered some soul searching about the larger meaning of diversity with an influx of Asians, but the virtual absence of African Americans and Latinos from this “progressive” New England town.

George Smith is actively working to make the town more racially diverse. He said he's had conversations with church groups and the newspaper about beginning to talk about how to make Acton a more welcoming community.

Smith said it is important to spread out the demographic net across Acton and says the influx of Asians to the community should not be viewed as competition, but rather as the growth of the family of nations.   Sahay, on the other side of town, nods in agreement and said after all wasn’t that Martin Luther King’s dream:

"[When] Martin Luther Said "I have a dream", he meant it was not only black population. It was in the sense of bringing all the communities together. People can come and live their dreams in Acton," she said.

And what about the legacy of the young ministers who set off from this town 50 years ago to join the March on Washington? 

A search of Roger Wooten and Dean Lancier online gives you just about zero results. Two voices in the crowd on August 28, 1963 lost in the whirlwind of history.But residents in Acton said now that they know of of Wooten and Lancier, they will not be forgotten. Because what this town has become, albeit imperfect, is the culmination of Wooten and Lancier’s dream that they shared with a reporter 50 years ago today.