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MLK memorial dedication postponed

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(AP, ABC7) - A planned weekend dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall has been postponed until September or October as approaching Hurricane Irene dashed hopes of paying tribute to the late civil rights activist on the 48th anniversary of his "I Have a Dream" speech, organizers said Thursday.

“We are announcing in the interest of public safety that we are forced to change our plans,” said Harry Johnson Sr., president of the memorial project foundation.

Executive architect Ed Jackson Jr. told The Associated Press in an email statement that the hurricane bearing down on the East Coast had forced the postponement of the dedication originally planned for 11 a.m. Sunday. President Barack Obama was to have been one of the scheduled speakers at beside the King sculpture erected on a 4-acre site in the nation's capital.

As King's Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers held their final ceremony at the front of the venue, workers at the back were removing thousands of chairs set out for the dedication.

"We'll just have to come another time because we can't do anything about Hurricane Irene, that's God's work,” said Roy Hadley, in town from Altanta, Ga.

"I can appreciate the fact that they're not going ahead and putting all of us in the middle of a hurricane,” Nicole Ward said.

"Get ready Mr. Lincoln, there's a new neighbor and we all come to help him move in," Al Sharpton said to laughs.

The alphas led a procession to the memorial, with Dr. King's daughter Bernice and sister Christine among them. Many said getting to see the memorial was most important to them.

Johnson, the president of the foundation that built the memorial, said at a  news conference Thursday that he decided to postpone the dedication after studying the weather forecasts indicating Irene would potentially make weather conditions unsafe for visitors. He also said a Saturday black-tie gala event has been postponed.

"We all are saddened by this. I remained optimistic all day, but Mother Nature is Mother Nature," Johnson said at a news conference called at the Washington Convention Center.

But he added, "The memorial is going to be there forever."

An estimated 20,000 people had come from all over the country to attend. Despite their sadness, they agreed safety should be first.

“I was truly looking forward to it. I'm very disappointed,” said Patricia McDougall-Matthews of the Martin Luther King Jr. committee.

“It's a labor of love, and we understand the decisions, and we'll just have to go with it as it happens,” said Wilfred Green who had come into town from Texas.

Just hours earlier, the memorial project president had insisted the show would go on even after reporters questioned his decision. He says he changed his mind when he saw hurricane forecasts.

The National Park Service will open the Memorial on Friday from noon to 10 p.m. and on Saturday, Aug. 27, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., weather permitting. Depending on the effects of Hurricane Irene, the park service will open the Memorial permanently to visitors on Monday, Aug. 29, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Metro says its system will open at the regular weekend time of 7 a.m. Additional personnel will be on hand to respond to weather events.

The forecasts threatened heavy winds and rains in Washington as Irene was expected to take an unpredictable path up the East Coast this coming weekend, the weather service said.

Organizers had previously said they expected to draw up to 250,000 people for what was to have been a tribute and celebration of the King legacy. The memorial was to have been dedicated on the 48th anniversary of King's famous speech delivered less than a mile away on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

The hurricane was only the second disruption or organizers who also had to contend with a rare East Coast earthquake on Tuesday.

The 5.8-magnitude earthquake that caused a crack on the upper part of the Washington Monument had forced organizers to change a venue for a Saturday event celebrating the memorial's dedication. An interfaith service had been planned Saturday the National Cathedral, but that landmark building suffered damages from falling capstones from the quake centered in neighboring Virginia.

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