Thundering applause and swelling cheers signaled the official dedication Sunday of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial, as thousands of supporters joined King family members, friends and local leaders in honoring the slain civil rights leader.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Bernice King, the slain civil right’s leader’s youngest child. “An earthquake, a hurricane, but today we are here, and thank God we are here.”
Ms. King’s words echoed throughout the crowd gathered along the western edge of the Tidal Basin to watch the rescheduled ceremony to recognize the first monument on the Mall dedicated to sombody other than a U.S. president.
“It was a wonderful and historical day,” said Janet Norris, a Southeast resident.
Ms. Norris, 49, said she brought her two sons, Kevon, 14, and Jabare, 13, to the event because she “wanted them to be a part of the celebration day.”
Said Jabare: “He deserves it.”
The 4-acre park originally was to have been dedicated Aug. 28 but was postponed by severe weather caused by Hurricane Irene.
Harry E. Johnson, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Foundation, said the week that brought an earthquake and hurricane to the city was “indeed a dark day for me.”
To be sure, Sunday’s weather was a vast improvement. Though a fraction of the 250,000-strong crowd expected for the original dedication was present, cheers and applause rose from the thousands who arrived as the sun rose to get a spot on the grass, some using pieces of cardboard to sit on dew-covered grass.
After receiving cheers of “four more years” from the crowd, President Obama reflected on the progress King made in his life and the work still to be done.
“It is right for us to celebrate today Dr. Kings dream and his vision of unity,” said Mr. Obama, who delivered the final speech in the roughly three-hour event. “And yet it is also important on this day to remind ourselves that such progress did not come easily, that Dr. King’s faith was hard-won, that it sprung out of a harsh reality and some bitter disappointments. Our work is not done. And so on this day, in which we celebrate a man and a movement that did so much for this country, let us draw strength from those earlier struggles.”
Though closed for security for the president, the monument is normally open to the public to wander the grounds and consider the 450-foot granite wall that includes carved quotes from the famous orator.
In the center of the park, a towering boulder breaks way for a larger-than-life image of King standing with arms crossed, looking across the Tidal Basin to the east.
“Now he’s 30 feet tall and looking down on everybody,” said Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta and U.S. ambassador to the U.N., comparing the monument to King’s experience with oppression while fighting for equal rights.
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray also took time to fight for his cause: voting rights for D.C. residents.
Despite only scattered applause from the audience, Mr. Gray rallied for the congressional representation of the “601,000 residents of D.C. whose dream remains unfulfilled.”
Attendees were treated to music and performances by various artists, including singers Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder, and civil rights supporters including the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who received standing ovations for their speeches on not sitting idle in the face of adversity.
Ed Jennings Jr. of Atlanta had been to see the memorial several weeks ago, but said he came back for the dedication.
“It’s the culmination of what Dr. King and that generation dreamed about,” said the 43-year-old Jennings. “There’s so much to be thankful for. It’s incredible.”