WASHINGTON (AP) — For many who helped dedicate the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on Sunday, the towering granite monument is a stark reminder that the civil rights leader’s dream of social and economic justice has yet to be realized.

In many ways, the ceremony was a passing of the torch to a younger generation with speeches marked by fierce rhetoric over the nation’s economic disparities.

Thousands gathered at the memorial site, some as early as 5 a.m., to hear President Barack Obama, King’s children and other civil rights leaders. Speaker after speaker invoked King’s “I Have a Dream” speech from 1963 to challenge others to carry on his fight.

“Yes, my father had a dream. It was a dream, he said, that was deeply embedded in the American dream,” said King’s son Martin Luther King III. “The problem is the American dream of 50 years ago has turned into a nightmare for millions” who have lost their jobs and homes.

The nation has “lost its soul,” he said, when it tolerates such vast economic disparities, teen bullying, and having more people of color in prison than in college.

His sister, the Rev. Bernice King, reminded the crowd that just before her father’s assassination in 1968, he was mobilizing a poor people’s campaign to occupy the nation’s capital until the economic system changed. She said the postponement of an earlier dedication because of Hurricane Irene that was planned on Aug. 28, the 48th anniversary of her father’s “Dream” speech, may have been an act of God.

“Perhaps the postponement was a divine interruption to remind us of a King that moved us beyond the dream of racial justice to the action and work of economic justice,” she said. “Perhaps God wanted us to move beyond the ‘dream’ into action.”

Other speakers included union leaders, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young, the former Atlanta mayor and U.N. ambassador who was an aide to King. Young urged the crowd to vote for a president who has their interests at heart.

Actress Cicely Tyson said her contemporaries are passing the fight on to a new generation. She passed the microphone to 12-year-old Amandla Stenberg. The girl recalled learning about the civil rights movement in school and named four young girls killed in a 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Ala.

“As Dr. King said at their funeral, ‘They didn’t live long lives, but they lived meaningful lives,”‘ Amandla said. “I plan to live a meaningful life, too.”

Some looked to Obama to carry on King’s legacy.

Street vendors nearby sold framed photographs edited to depict King and the nation’s first black president conversing together in the Oval Office, along with a wide swath of buttons, posters and other souvenirs showing King and Obama.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia said Obama’s election was “just a down payment” on King’s dream. “We’re not there yet,” he said.

About 1.5 million people are estimated to have visited the memorial’s 30-foot-tall statue of King and its granite walls where 14 of his quotations are carved in stone since it opened in August. The memorial is the first on the National Mall honoring a black leader.

The sculpture of King with his arms crossed appears to emerge from a stone extracted from a mountain. It was carved by Chinese artist Lei Yixin. The design was inspired by a line from the “Dream” speech: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

Obama, who was just 6 years old when King was assassinated, saluted the civil rights icon as a man who pushed the nation toward what it “ought” to be and who changed hearts and minds.

“He had faith in us,” Obama said. “And that is why he belongs on this Mall: Because he saw what we might become.”

“As tough as times may be, I know we will overcome,” Obama said. “I know there are better days ahead.”

The president, who credits King with paving his way to the White House, left a copy of his inaugural speech in a time capsule at the monument earlier in the day.

Many who crowded in to see the president and hear Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder sing chanted “four more years” when Obama arrived. And they said the talk of economic fairness resonated with their own lives.

Joyce Lansdown, 61, a retired federal worker from Chantilly, Va., brought her daughter and granddaughter to the ceremony. She was glad Obama and others mentioned the importance of caring for seniors during the economic downturn.

“My heart goes out to them,” she said. “My momma is still living on her little Social Security check.”

Patricia Johnson, 50, drove with her godfather’s granddaughter from Twinsburg, Ohio, to see the president and King’s family.

“It seems that President Obama as a young president is following King’s footsteps,” she said. “I think we can continue to learn a lot from (King’s) example.”

Her young family friend, 13-year-old Faron Bouldin, wiped tears from her eyes as a recording of King’s full “Dream” speech played on large TV screens after Obama spoke.

“It feels really important for me,” Bouldin said of King’s message.

Some 10,000 chairs set up in a field near the memorial site were all filled. Many others stood in overflow sections. The August ceremony when the memorial opened had been expected to draw 250,000, though organizers anticipated about 50,000 for Sunday’s event.

Violinist Miri Ben-Ari performed an original composition written for the event and the song “Bus Passed” with spoken word artists Poem-Cees. Poet Nikki Giovanni read her poem “In the Spirit of Martin.” Wonder, Sheryl Crow and James Taylor performed in a concert after the dedication.

The Rev. Al Sharpton called for people from around the world to see the monument’s “stone of hope.”

“When you walk through, you see a man standing in a posture of faith,” he said. “Faith that brought us from the back of the bus to the White House.”

Before the dedication, the King siblings walked through the memorial plaza with Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, and their two daughters.

Bernice King said her family was proud to witness the memorial’s dedication and hope it will spur action to solve the nation’s problems.

Echoing her father’s words, she told the crowd, “One day we’ll all be able to say `Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are all free at last.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Comments (7)
  1. 1063 says:

    I love how this “great leader”, “man of peace”, and “doctor” is posed like he’s on the cover of a 2Live Crew album – shows the true disposition of blacks in America – either defiant and confrontational, or pouting because they want more handouts…… waste of money and space – this man does not deserve a place among Washington’s monuments.

    1. Dalpha says:

      You’re a idiot!

    2. Mr. Right says:

      Yes, Dr. Martin Luther King was a Great Man! an as a black man I am Insulted that every time I turn around some so called “civil rights” spokes person is using great moments like this to push a ” we are the victim ” campaine. Here we have a black president in the white house, we have more wealth and affluence now than any time in history;so what is the problem?we also have forgotten God and we cant expect the blessings and leave God out of the equation. We have elevated the gay rights movement to the same level as natural marriage. we have replaced almighty God ( Jesus ) with the almighty Dollar. more young black mails are dying at the hands of one another than have died in all of last three wars combined we have replace welfare with spiritual warfare

  2. sheriff says:

    Dalpha, The person is an idiot for speaking his or her mind? Remember the 1st amendment & freedom of speech you turd. While we’re at it MLK was a busy spook. A womanizer, heavy drinker & supposedly a fater of several illegitimate baby coons.

  3. willy joe says:

    I’m sure the MLK statue will gather a lot of pigeon poop on hos black head shortly because he was a s….t head anyway.

  4. Fed Up says:

    “Economic fairness” what does this mean? Apparently take from one group and give to another. A person works, saves and looks to the future, but the government takes your wealth in the form of fees and taxes and hands it out in the form of entitlements. How is this fairness? Everyone knows that you must work to get the items you want and need, not sit back and wait for government handouts. Cradle to grave entitlements must end, the 50% that does not pay a cent in taxes must end. I never entered this life expecting to be rich, because I never will, but I worked and took care of my family with no handouts.

  5. Sad Father says:

    Yesterday, I drove past Chucky-Cheese with my 3 year old in the car. He wanted to go there and play games. We had to explain to him that we did not have the money to spend for him to have a little fund (he would have been happy with $5 to play games. My wife and I just paid $105 in groceries, and have to live off these groceries until I get paid in two weeks. I am not considered poor by government standards (we have a combined income of over $80k), so I do not qualify for WIC or other Government programs. Over, half of my wife’s pay check pays for daycare so she can work. We do not qualify for daycare vouchers (to enjoy free or reduced daycare). I am sure if we did qualify, I would have enough money to take my son to Chucky-Cheese so he could have a little fun. Funny thing is that with the economic justice not being realized the majority of the people I could see eating at Chucky-Cheese were black. I HAVE LOST ANY APATHY I MAY HAVE HAD, WHEN I HAD TO TELL MY SON WE COULD NOT AFFORD TO HAVE FUN, BECAUSE MY TAX DOLLARS ARE BEING WASTED TO ALLOW OTHERS TO HAVE FUN!!!

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