WASHINGTON – The August hurricane gave way to a beautiful day Sunday for the dedication of a memorial for a renowned leader who fought for equality and the civil rights of every person,regardless of race.
Thousands of people gathered on the National Mall to celebrate the formal dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. The dedication was postponed seven weeks ago due to Hurricane Irene.
“An earthquake and a hurricane may have delayed this day,but this day will not be denied,” President Barack Obama said in his speech. “For this day,we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s return to the National Mall.”
Even thought the memorial has been open to the public since Aug. 22,people of all ages and races lined up on Independence Avenue beginning at 5 a.m. to witness the historic event.
The dedication was originally scheduled for Aug. 28,the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington and King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Organizers expected to draw 250,000 people on the original date,but they anticipated about 50,000 on Sunday.
“Here I am,overjoyed and humbled to see this great day when my brother Martin takes his symbolic place on the National Mall.” Christine King Farris,King’s older sister,said. “This is just overwhelming.”
Two of King’s children were greeted with cheers as they spoke about their father’s legacy.
“Today represents another milestone in the life of America,” Bernice King said. “This is not just a celebration for African Americans but for every American and citizens around this Earth.”
Martin Luther King III talked about the need for new generations to fight for a renewed American dream and continue the work of his father.
“Let us embrace dad’s legacy,let us celebrate dad’s life,but more importantly let us live as Dr. King envisioned when he described how all of our destinies are tagged together,” King said.
The King memorial is the first to honor an African-American leader on the National Mall,and it comes as the U.S. is also making history with the first African-American president.
The memorial,paid for with private money,will be operated by the National Park Service.
“We not only had hope,but we had faith,” Lee A. Saunders,secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State,County and Municipal Employees,said. “Faith that brought us from the back of the bus to the White House.”
The sea of people cheered as speakers remembered King’s life. Even thought the four- hour event was running half an hour behind,the crowd remained energetic.
First lady Michelle Obama attended the ceremony with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar,singer Aretha Franklin and Harry E. Johnson Sr.,president of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial. Before the ceremony,the president and first lady walked through the memorial with their daughters. The president placed two of his speeches,including his 2009 inaugural speech,in a time capsule.
The program took place at the memorial site,which was across a road from where the crowd gathered. The audience viewed the ceremony on large TV screens. Choirs and other musical acts performed on a stage in front of the crowd.
“It was a great event,really. It defines the moment of what Dr. King started out to do. To give us that hope that we all need,the faith,the strength,the continuum to fight for justice and equality for all men,young and old,” Donald Melvin,an Atlanta utility contractor in his 60s,said.
Reach reporter Danya P. Hernandez [email protected] or 202-326-9866. Reach reporter Shannon McDonald at 202-326-9868 or [email protected]. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits SHFWire.