As the sun rose over the nation’s capital on Oct. 16, thousands began to gather in the crisp morning air to honor the legacy of one of the most revered and respected men in American history.
Like many others, E. Stewart, her daughter, Judith, and 6-year-old great granddaughter traveled by bus from New York to commemorate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I came because this is history,” said Judith, who expressed a bittersweet sentiment about the event. “It’s good and it’s bad, because we are here to honor Dr. King but at the same time Republicans are not doing anything to contribute to the president’s success.”
Vendors hawked commemorative T-shirts, paintings and buttons along the winding path around the Mall on the pilgrimage to the monument site, where a stage and giant television screens were set up for the expected crowd.
Young children walked alongside eager parents, many stopping to take pictures of the other monuments and explain the importance of the day.
President Barack Obama, the first lady and their daughters arrived late in the morning and the sea of people who had donned white baseball hats and T-shirts cheered whenever they caught a glimpse of the first family on the screen. Chants of “four more years” could be heard in the crowds.
By midday, the growing crowd had overflowed past the monument site to the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Still, others came to participate in history and to hear the nation’s first African-American president honor the first African-American man to be memorialized on the National Mall.
“This city has the privilege of hosting the long-awaited and long-overdue memorial,” said District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray, as he welcomed everyone to the official dedication ceremony. “The District of Columbia is proud to serve as home to the King memorial, celebrating the American ideals that Dr. King so heroically fought to make a reality: freedom, equality, justice and democracy.”
Gray also said the dream King fought and died for had not yet been achieved. He called for Congress and the president to act on behalf of the millions of people feeling downtrodden by growing economic disparities and unemployment.
Other dignitaries who spoke, including former Chairman of the NAACP Julian Bond, the Rev. Al Sharpton and members of the King family, echoed that sentiment and often drew similarities between the march led by King at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and the Occupy Wall Street protests, which started in mid-September.
“It’s been a long time coming,” began King’s daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, in her address to the crowd. She said the day of celebration was not just for African-Americans, and expressed her gratitude to everyone involved in bringing the vision of the King memorial to fruition.
“Forty-three years ago, when father was taken from us, he was in the midst of starting a ‘Poor People’s Campaign,’ where he was galvanizing poor people from all walks of life to converge on this nation’s capital and occupy this place until there was change in the economic system,” Bernice King said.
Bernice King also emphatically thanked her mother, the late Coretta Scott King, for fighting tirelessly to institutionalize her father’s life, words and principles.
As notable figures and special guests stood before the crowd to honor the legacy of the man that changed America, the most resounding was that of the person who knew him the longest.
“During my life, I’ve witnessed a baby become a great hero to humanity,” said King’s older sister, Dr. Christine King Farris. “The dream of justice, equality and brotherhood that he shared with us on that sweltering August afternoon is really the heart and soul of the American dream.”