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Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial dedicated in Washington

At the official dedication of the memorial to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the National Mall, a crowd of 30,000 is urged to 'move beyond the dream and into action.'

October 16, 2011|By Alexa Vaughn, Washington Bureau
  • The Rev. Raphael Warnock delivers a benediction during the dedication ceremony of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington.
The Rev. Raphael Warnock delivers a benediction during the dedication… (Brendan Smialowski / Getty…)

Reporting from Washington   — The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wasn't a big guy.

"He was only about 5 feet 7," said civil rights leader Andrew Young at Sunday morning's formal dedication of the granite memorial to his friend. "He was always upset about all the tall people looking down on him. Well now he's 30 feet tall!"

Laughter erupted from the crowd of at least 30,000 who attended the dedication in a sunny West Potomac Park. It was a much smaller turnout than the 250,000 people that event organizers had expected on the monument's original dedication date, Aug. 28, the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington and King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Hurricane Irene forced the ceremony to be postponed.

Photos: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

But the rescheduled event had a purpose, according to King's children, Bernice King and Martin Luther King III, who put their full support behind ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests across the country.

"We are being pulled from the familiar place of the 'I Have a Dream' speech, beyond the dream of racial justice to that of economic justice," said Bernice King, who reminded the crowd that her father fought not only for racial equality, but for the rights of the poor as well. "He would want us to move beyond the dream and into action."

Her brother implored the crowd to care more about what King stood for than the man himself.

"Sometimes we get caught up in the brand of my father, but not the ideas of my father," said Martin Luther King III.

It was appropriate that President Obama would have the distinction of dedicating King's memorial, some members of the crowd said.

Tony Dunlap of Cincinnati said, "There were two firsts today. The first black president and the first black leader on the National Mall."

A morning of speeches from civil rights leaders such as Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, both of whom were associates of King, and the Rev. Al Sharpton culminated with a song from Aretha Franklin and an address from President Obama.

"To see [King] as larger than life would be a disservice," Obama said. "It was precisely because he was a man of flesh and blood that we respect him so."

Obama, who was a child during King's most active years in the civil rights movement, recalled that King was not always seen as a unifying leader, even among his own freedom fighters.

"King's faith was hard-won," Obama said. "Progress did not come from words alone. Progress was bought with days in jail and nights of bomb threats. But because of his vision, his moral imagination, barriers began to fall, bigotry began to fade and doors to opportunity swung open for an entire generation."

King's "I Have a Dream" speech was then played on large video screens, less than half a mile from the Lincoln Memorial steps where he delivered it in 1963.

This time the crowd at the National Mall could speak the last part of the speech with him: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we're free at last!"

Jaylen Couser, 15, of Muskegon, Mich., stood at the Lincoln Memorial, overwhelmed with what he called a feeling of power.

"He was definitely just a human being, but what he did was larger than life."

Photos: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

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