Thousands celebrate MLK memorial dedication
(AP) - President Barack Obama urged Americans Sunday to draw energy and lessons of peace and patience from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the slain Baptist minister honored among presidents with a memorial on the National Mall.
What Obama didn't need to say suggested much of the progress King had sought: The nation's first black president was dedicating the first memorial to a black man on the National Mall, a circumstance the memorial's designers didn't envision when they began work more than 15 years ago.
But all around the sun-splashed, star-studded event were reminders of the gap between King's famous dreams of equality and the nation's imperfect reality in 2011. Now, too, the nation remains riven by war, economic crisis and, in some quarters, distrust of government.
"I know we will overcome," Obama, who was 6 when King was assassinated in 1968, proclaimed to the crowd of several thousand.
"He had faith in us," the president added. "And that is why he belongs on this Mall: because he saw what we might become."
The memorial's dedication has special meaning for the Obamas. The president credits King for opening his way to the White House and makes reference to the civil rights leader in many speeches. Two nights earlier, the first family opted for a more private visit to the site - before the crowds and the cameras arrived.
In the glare of bright sun and television lights Sunday, King's daughter Bernice, his son Martin Luther King III and Harry Johnson Sr., president and CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Project Foundation, gave the first family a second tour.
The group walked along the memorial's long inscription wall and stopped at a large silver box - a time capsule to be buried at the memorial. Obama's daughters, Sasha and Malia, each dropped a scroll inside. A White House aide confirmed that they were signed copies of the president's inaugural speech and his address to the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
They moved on to the granite monument: two jagged boulders representing the "mountain of despair" King described, with a massive "stone of hope" removed from the middle and pushed ahead. Carved from the central piece is the 30-foot sculpture of King, arms crossed, staring out over the reflecting pool and past the Jefferson Memorial to the horizon.
"Are you all happy with it?" the president asked the King family. Bernice King replied yes.
Would you like to contribute to this story? Join the discussion.