Thousands descended on Washington D.C.’s National Mall Sunday morning to witness the official dedication of the historic Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
After speeches from civil rights luminaries such as Julian Bond, Rev. Joe Lowery, Rep. John Lewis, and ambassador Andrew Young, King's children and musical performances, President Obama took to the podium and expressed his gratitude for the slain leader's work. Obama, who was 6 when King was assassinated in 1968, credited him with helping to pave his way to the White House as the nation's first Black president.
He said that King “stirred our conscience” and made our union “more perfect.” He reminded spectators that progress did not come easy and did not come from words alone. King’s tenacity helped swing open the door of opportunity for generations to come, he said.
Obama noted that the monument was also a testament to the strength and heroism of civil rights luminaries such as Rosa Parks and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, civil rights icon and co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who died on Oct. 5. He said that the monument was also for the unnamed “foot soldiers of justice” who continue in King’s footsteps.
The president talked about the vilification King faced during his life, and made parallels between the recent vilification of Wall Street, noting that it wouldn’t be King’s way toward reform. He said that we must heed King’s teaching to build a stronger country for all.
"I know we will overcome," Obama proclaimed, standing by an imposing granite monument on the National Mall. "I know this," the president said, "because of the man towering over us."
Before his remarks, the president left a copy of his inauguration speech in a time capsule at the monument site.
Some visitors started lining up at 5 a.m. and even earlier on Sunday morning at the memorial site, just to the southeast of the steps where King delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech. The program kicked off with an early-morning welcome by Roland Martin and continued with fiery speeches by civil rights luminaries who marched with King in the 1960s and who continue to promote his dream of equal rights for all.
Both Jesse Jackson Sr. and Al Sharpton drew comparisons with the Occupy Wall Street protests against corporate greed and social injustice during their short speeches at the ceremony. During her speech, child advocate Marian Wright Edelman implored attendees to speak up and rescue children from falling into the prison industrial complex.
About 1.5 million people have visited the 30-foot-tall statue of King and the granite walls where 14 of his quotations are carved in stone, writes the Associated Press. The memorial is the first on the National Mall honoring a Black leader.
King's older sister, Christine King Farris, said she witnessed a baby become "a great hero to humanity."
"He was my little brother, and I watched him grow and develop into a man who was destined for a special kind of greatness," she said.
King's daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, said her family is proud to witness the memorial's dedication.
Following the dedication, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Sheryl Crow and others performed in a special concert.
(Photo: MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)