Obama recalls MLK's 'Dream'

Tens of thousands of others also gathered in Washington to remember the legacy of the civil rights icon

President Barack Obama during the ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Fifty years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. voiced his soaring dream of equality on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, former presidents, relatives of the civil rights icon and a crowd of tens of thousands gathered Wednesday to recall the famous "I have a dream" speech and pay homage to the man President Barack Obama said “gave mighty voice to the quiet hopes of millions” who endured years of racial discrimination and segregation. 

"He offered a salvation path for oppressed and oppressors alike. His words belong to the ages, possessing a power and prophecy unmatched in our time," Obama said, speaking in the same place where King implored the 250,000 people who rallied there in 1963 to "let freedom ring." 

"When we allow freedom to ring," said King in his speech, "when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last, free at last, great God almighty, we are free at last.'"

The civil rights leader was assassinated five years after the Washington march, but King’s sister, Christine King Farris, said her brother’s legacy lives on 50 years later.

"They can slay the dreamer, but no, they cannot destroy his immortal dream," she said. 

King Farris, however, added that the dream was not yet realized and that there was much to be done before anyone could celebrate. 

Obama, the nation’s first black president, spoke of the progress that had been made in the years since the beginning of the civil rights movement.

"America changed for you and for me, and the entire world drew strength from that example," Obama said, speaking of the March on Washington. "To dismiss the magnitude of this progress, to suggest that, as some sometimes do, that little has changed, that dishonors the courage and sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those years."

Two former presidents, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, also spoke movingly of King's legacy -- and of problems still to overcome.

"This march and that speech changed America. They opened minds, they melted hearts, and they moved millions, including a 17-year-old boy watching alone in his home in Arkansas," Clinton said, referring to himself. "It was an empowering moment, but also an empowered moment."

Al Jazeera and wire services 

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