Yesterday was all about echoes. Echoes from voices past continuing into beyond. A sea of tens of thousands cheer and chanting as they looked up at video monitors showing the first family walking down a pathway of Martin Luther King’s most inspiring quotes en route to a ceremony to dedicate a memorial to honor his legacy. Past meets presents meets future.
The Obamas stopped directly in front of the imposing 30-foot monument of King with his arms folded and looked up. The Nation’s first Black president was stared upon by the edifice of a man that 48 years prior stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial some 300 years away to talk about a “dream” that forever changed a nation. Obama is the dream realized. So its only natural that the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial gets dedicated on Obama’s watch.
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“He had faith in us,” said Obama. “And that is why he belongs on this Mall: Because he saw what we might become. Without those glorious words, we might not have had the courage to come as far as we have. Yes, laws changed, but hearts and mind changed as well.”
The president, joined by his wife Michelle and two daughters, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, urged change takes time but called for more action in addressing issues related to poverty and unemployment.
“Look at the faces here around you,” Obama said. “You see an America that is more fair, and more free and more just than the one Dr. King addressed that day. We are right to savor that slow but certain progress.”
Obama urged, “I know we will overcome. I know this,” the president said, “because of the man towering over us.”
Hurricane Irene pushed back the August 28th date of the dedication, which was supposed to coincide with the day King gave his famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech from the March on Washington.
In addition to the Obamas and the Bidens, many other notables spoke — including civil rights icons such as Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Rev. Joseph Lowery, who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson. Poet Nikki Giovanni, actress Cicely Tyson, news anchor Dan Rather, King’s children Martin Luther King III and Rev. Bernice King, and King’s only surviving sibling Christine King Farris also addressed the event goers.
“I didn’t think my brother’s legacy could get much larger,” King’s 84-year-old sister Farris shared referring to the day when King received his own national holiday in 1983. “But I was wrong. Here I am witnessing my brother’s symbolic place on the national mall near America’s greatest presidents. Let this wonderful day mark another step toward the fulfillment of the dream.
The event, while entertaining with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Mary Mary and Aretha Franklin, also became political as well.
Many speakers used the platform to speak about King’s work with civil rights but they also spoke about social and economic justice, many times referencing the current “Occupy” protests happening nationally against wealthy individual and corporations saying that economic equality was King’s next focus.
Rev. Bernice King shared that her father was actively campaigning on behalf of poor people before he died.
“I hear my father say we must have a radical revolution of values and a reordering of our priorities in this nation,” Bernice King said. “I hear my father say, as we dedicate this monument, we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society, to a person-oriented society.”
Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), the only one who spoke at the historic March on Washington that’s is still alive, said that King must be looked at as one of the founding fathers of the new America.
“He not only freed a people he liberated a nation,” said Lewis. “He challenged the most powerful nation to find its moral compass”
Martin Cicely king III said that while it’s great to have his father’s name on schools, streets, and buildings, he warned against getting caught up in King’s bigger than life presence lest forgetting what he stood for.
“Let’s not to place too much emphasis on Martin Luther King the idol, and not enough on the ideals of Martin Luther King.” King said sharing that the memorial should serve as a reminder to continue his father’s work and fight for justice.
Al Sharpton shared Martin Luther King III’s sentiment.
“This is not a monument of those times past,” Sharpton said. “This is a marker for the fight for justice today and a projection for the fight for justice in the future because we will not stop until we get the equal justice justice (that) Dr. King fought for.”