Thousands mark MLK memorial
WASHINGTON — Thousands of people gathered Sunday to give the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial a proper dedication on the National Mall after its opening in August.
Aretha Franklin, poet Nikki Giovanni and President Barack Obama were among those honoring the legacy of the nation’s foremost civil rights leader during a ceremony scheduled to run more than four hours.
The crowd, some of whom came out as early as 5 a.m., included people of all ages and races. Some women wore large Sunday hats for the occasion. The president arrived late morning with his wife and two daughters, which drew loud cheers from those watching his entrance on large screens. He spoke from a podium set up with part of the memorial as a backdrop.
He saluted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday as a man who “stirred our conscience” and made the Union “more perfect,” rejoicing in the dedication of a monument memorializing the slain civil rights leader’s life and work.
“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.”
Obama and his wife, Michelle, and Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, joined a host of civil rights figures for the dedication on the sun-splashed Mall.
“He had faith in us,” said Obama, who was 6 when King was assassinated in 1968. Obama told the crowd, “And that is why he belongs on this Mall: Because he saw what we might become.
Obama credits King with paving his way to the White House. Before his remarks, the president left a copy of his inaugural speech in a time capsule at the monument site.
Cherry Hawkins traveled from Houston with her cousins and arrived at 6 a.m. to be part of the dedication. They postponed earlier plans to attend the August dedication, which was postponed because of Hurricane Irene.
“I wanted to do this for my kids and grandkids,” Hawkins said. She expects the memorial will be in their history books someday. “They can say, ‘Oh, my granny did that.'”
Hawkins, her cousin DeAndrea Cooper and Cooper’s daughter Brittani Jones, 23, visited the King Memorial on Saturday after joining a march with the Rev. Al Sharpton to urge Congress to pass a jobs bill.
“You see his face in the memorial, and it’s kind of an emotional moment,” Cooper said. “It’s beautiful. They did a wonderful job.”
A stage for speakers and thousands of folding chairs were set up on a field near the memorial along with large TV screens. Most of the 10,000 chairs set out appeared to be full. Many other people were standing.
The August ceremony had been expected to draw 250,000, though organizers anticipated about 50,000 for Sunday’s event.
Actress Cicely Tyson said her contemporaries are passing the torch to a new generation and passed the microphone to 12-year-old Amandla Stenberg. The girl recalled learning about the civil rights movement in school and named four young girls killed in a 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Ala.
“As Dr. King said at their funeral, ‘They didn’t live long lives, but they lived meaningful lives,'” Amandla said. “I plan to live a meaningful life, too.”
About 1.5 million people are estimated to have visited the 30-foot-tall statue of King and the granite walls where 14 of his quotations are carved in stone. The memorial is the first on the National Mall honoring a black leader.