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Thousands honour King at memorial

President Barack Obama saluted Martin Luther King Jr on Sunday as a man who "stirred our conscience" at the formal dedication of the new memorial to the late civil rights leader on the National Mall in the US capital.

Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and poet Nikki Giovanni were among those who took part in the more than four-hour ceremony honouring King's legacy that drew thousands of people spanning all ages and races.

King's children and other civil rights leaders spoke before the President, invoking the Nobel Peace Prize laureate's 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington and calling upon a new generation to help fully realise that dream.

"I know we will overcome," Mr Obama proclaimed, standing by the 30-foot granite monument to King on the National Mall. "I know this," the President said, "because of the man towering over us."

Mr Obama and his wife Michelle, and Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill joined a host of civil rights figures for the dedication. The memorial is the first to a black man on the National Mall and its parks.

"He had faith in us," said Mr Obama, who was six when King was assassinated in 1968. Mr Obama told the crowd: "And that is why he belongs on this Mall - because he saw what we might become."

The dedication has special meaning for the Obamas. The President credits King with paving his way to the White House. Before his remarks, he left signed copies of his inaugural speech and 2008 convention address in a time capsule at the monument site. The first couple and daughters Malia and Sasha made a more private visit to the site on Friday night, before the crowds and the cameras arrived.

In his talk, Mr Obama focused on King's broad themes - equality, justice and peaceful resistance - as the nation confronts, 48 years after King's "I Have a Dream" speech, some of the same issues of war, an economic crisis and a lingering distrust of government in some quarters.

Referring to citizen protests against the wealthy and powerful that have spread from Wall Street and Washington, even abroad, Obama said: "Dr King would want us to challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonising those who work there."

The monument, situated between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials in what the designers call a "line of leadership", was 15 years in the making. Several speakers noted that its designers could not have predicted then that the monument would be dedicated by the nation's first black president.


From Belfast Telegraph