King's Legacy Remembered At Memorial Thousands attended the formal dedication Sunday of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall. It was an emotional day for those, including President Obama, who came to honor the slain civil rights leader. Obama said King's work "is not complete."
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King's Legacy Remembered At Memorial

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King's Legacy Remembered At Memorial

King's Legacy Remembered At Memorial

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Rebecca Roberts. Today in Washington, thousands turned out for the formal dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. It was an emotional day for those, including President Obama, who came to honor the first monument on the National Mall dedicated to an African-American. NPR's Allison Keyes was there.


ALLISON KEYES, BYLINE: As the choir from Dr. King's home church in Atlanta took the stage, people streamed into the park just west of the King Memorial, carrying chairs, cardboard boxes to sit on, and their children. There were tears on the faces of some in this rainbow crowd, and big smiles on others such as Edna Smith Hector, who says she's proud to be here today.

EDNA SMITH HECTOR: It's an honor for him and for us as a race.

JIM NICHOLS: King has always been an important part of our lives.

KEYES: Jim Nichols(ph) and his wife are here from South Carolina, and he thinks some of King's dreams have been fulfilled.

NICHOLS: They have been achieved, not like he would want, nor as he predicted, but I think we're still on the way.


KEYES: But many who spoke today noted that while some things have changed, the nation still faces many of the challenges King battled against. President Obama told the rapt crowd that while it's right to honor King's dream and his vision of unity...

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Because nearly 50 years after the March on Washington, our work, Dr. King's work, is not yet complete.

KEYES: The president ticked off a list of things still to be done, from rebuilding the economy and making sure the economic system is one where everyone gets their fair share, to fixing the schools and the nation's health care system. But he also spoke very personally about what he wants his daughters to take away from this memorial and what he thinks King would have wanted them to know.

OBAMA: He would want them to know that he had setbacks, because they will have setbacks. He would want them to know that he had doubts because they will have doubts. He would want them to know that he was flawed because all of us have flaws.

KEYES: Mr. Obama says America admired King precisely because he was a man of flesh and blood, not stone. King's daughter, the Reverend Bernice King, also shared personal thoughts about her father. She said he'd have much to say about the poverty, unemployment and violence plaguing the nation, and about the protests such as Occupy Wall Street that have been occurring globally.

REVEREND BERNICE KING: I hear my father saying what we are seeing now all across the streets of America and the world is a freedom explosion.


ROBERTS: Keeping in the vein of personal thoughts about King, Aretha Franklin performed "Precious Lord," a song she says he often asked her to sing. And former ambassador Andrew Young cracked everyone up with a funny story about King.

ANDREW YOUNG: You think of Martin Luther King as a giant of a man. But the one complex he had was a complex about his height. He was really just five feet seven, and he was always getting upset with tall people who'd look down on him. Now, he's 30 feet tall looking down on everybody.


KEYES: And King's big sister, Christine King Farris, told the audience that she saw a baby grow into a great hero to humanity who provided hope to freedom-loving people everywhere.

CHRISTINE KING FARRIS: You have ensured that his legacy will provide a source of inspiration for people from all over the world for generations to come.

KEYES: That's exactly what Kiyani Johnson is hoping.

KIYANI JOHNSON: This is our legacy. This is our history. And if we don't pass it on to the next generation, it's going to be lost, and that would be tragic.

KEYES: Johnson brought her 11- and 13-year-old daughters here so they could honor what she calls a great, great man.

JOHNSON: I have one daughter that's biracial, and I want her to understand that there's a chance that she wouldn't even exist if this man never did what he did.

KEYES: Johnson says she tells her daughters if they don't understand where they come from as a people, they won't be able to direct where they're going to go in the future. Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.


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