Thousands came out to Washington, D.C., for the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
People from all over the country converged on the Nation’s Capital on October 16 to commemorate the National Mall’s newest monument. More than a month after the original dedication was rained out by Hurricane Irene, there wasn’t a gray cloud in the sky. Although many shivered against a slight chill in the air, the sun eventually warmed the crowd.
One path to the memorial took S2S right past the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin delivered his historic "I Have A Dream" speech in 1968, which served to put the day in perspective.
Those determined to get a good seat for the event showed up at West Potomac Park as early as 6 a.m., but the day’s events didn’t get started until about 8 a.m. for Morning Joy, when the choir from Ebenezer Baptist Church performed a short set.
About an hour later the official dedication got underway. It kicked off with a performance of "Lift Every Voice" that was accompanied by a video, which culminated with footage of President Barack Obama’s acceptance speech in November of 2008. A slide reading "Mr. President" was shown before the video faded to black, reminding everyone of a huge milestone in the fulfillment of Martin’s dream.
Dedication M.C. Gwen Ifill then brought out several members of Martin’s family: Bernice King, his sister Christine King-Farris and Martin Luther King III. Christine said a few words while wearing a cobalt blue church hat to rival Aretha Fanklin’s famous Obama Inauguration hat.
When Bernice took the stage, she stated, "It’s been a long time coming, but today we are here." Bernice was the first of many to note that it took a decade, an earthquake and a hurricane to get the memorial built and dedicated, but she was proud to be part of the day.
While honoring her father’s memory, Bernice took a moment to remember her mother, Coretta Scott King’s, contributions to the civil rights movement after Martin’s assassination. Bernice even took time to reference executed inmate Troy Davis, noting that her father would have seen his death as an injustice.
Bernice also mused that perhaps the dedication’s delay may have been a bit of divine intervention. She contemplated whether the hold up was "God’s way" of not pulling focus from financial problems of the United States, another cause that her father vehemently fought against. In fact, Bernice noted that Martin was planning an occupation of Washington D.C. to protest economic inequality, not unlike the ongoing Occupy Wall Street movement. After the dedication, protestors sat in on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. Dr. Cornel West was among them, envoking Martin’s memory.
"Let us walk together, children, and not get weary," Bernice said in closing, reminding that her father’s dream hasn’t completely come true just yet. "One day we will be able to say, ‘Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty we are all free at last."
Martin Luther King III, who brought his wife and daughter on stage, echoed his sister’s point that there is still much more work to be done. He expressed his feelings that Sunday’s dedication should be taken, not just as a day to celebrate his father, but also as an occasion to remember what the civil rights leader stood for.
"Sometimes we get caught up in the brand of my father, but we forget to focus on the beliefs of my father," Martin III said, before reminding everyone that his father stood against injustice of all kinds, not just racial. Martin III spoke out against bullying and economic injustice among other things, stating that these things are major obstacles for his father’s objective.
While Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Cicely Tyson, Andrew Young and Diahann Carroll also delivered poignant speeches, the crowd gathered for the dedication was most anxious to hear President Obama speak. Many were disappointed to learn that the president wouldn’t take the stage in West Potomac Park, rather having his speech broadcast from the Martin Luther King Memorial itself, where a handful of prestigious guests witnessed his address live.
Still, when President Obama took the stage, chants of "four more years" rolled through the crowd. He graciously stepped up to podium after touring the memorial with his family and members of the King family.
"An earthquake and a hurricane may have delayed this day, but this is a day that would not be denied," he said, opening his speech with a smile. The president officially dedicated the memorial as Martin’s return to the National Mall where he will stand forever.
"It is right for us to celebrate Dr. King’s marvelous oratory, but it is worth remembering that progress did not come from words alone," President Obama said. "Progress was hard. Progress was purchased through enduring the smack of billy clubs and the blast of fire hoses."
Just as Bernice and Martin III had done earlier in the day, he drove home the point that the memorial shouldn’t be seen as the finish line for Martin’s dream. Rather it needs to be viewed as a marker in a long journey where the nation needs to take note of what it took to advance on the path to true equality.
"Our work is not done," the president said. "And so on this day, in which we celebrate a man and a movement that did so much for this country, let us draw strength from those earlier struggles."
President Obama also reminded those gathered for the celebration, and those watching at home or online, that the nation’s current view didn’t happen overnight.
"First and foremost, let us remember that change has never been quick," the president said. "Change has never been simple or without controversy. Change depends on persistence. Change requires determination."
It was not lost on the crowd that President Obama’s reminder that change isn’t instant was also speaking on the progress his own administration has made since he took office in January of 2009.
President Obama was voted into office on the faith that he would work to improve the health care system and fix the U.S. financial crisis, among other things. Less than three years However, many citizens do not feel as though the president has done enough since being sworn in.
The president said he’s not about to abandon Martin’s dreams, or his efforts to fix the nation’s problems, however. "As tough as times may be, I know we will overcome," said President Obama. "I know there are better days ahead. I know this because of the man towering over us."
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