Noon: Obama urges the nation to follow King’s lead
President Obama drew cheers and applause as he linked King’s civil rights struggles to the present political debates.
And as the speech ended, Obama won kudos from the crowd.
“I thought it was wonderful,” said Lori Brittain of the District. “It was important and meaningful that he came today. He’s the first black president, and he has a message that is one of change.”
Janice Baldwin, a United Auto Workers member from Youngstown, Ohio pronounced the speech “excellent” as she walked away from the mall. Asked what part she liked best, she said, “When we started chanting ‘Four more years.’ “
Debra Winfield of Mitchellville, wearing an Obama “Hope” t-shirt, said she sometimes wished Obama would be tougher in his fights with Republicans. But she said as Obama was speaking about criticisms King experienced from both supporters and detractors during his lifetime, she realized the president could have been describing his own situation.
“I think he was talking about himself,” she said. “He has a dream, but he’s had problems seeing it realized.”
11:30 a.m. The Obamas take the stage
The crowd stood silent and rapt as the giant telemonitors showed the Obamas walking past the memorial. Then the crowd began to change:
“Four more years! Four more years!
The Obamas and Bidens are being introduced.
11:20 a.m King’s sister speaks
As President Obama makes his way through the memorial, and is soon to deliver his speech, in the crowd are a fair number of people old enough to have lived through the conditions that King fought against.
Priscilla Williamson, 81, of Jacksonville, Fla., was in her 30s and a social worker in New York City during the ‘60s. She attended Riverside Church, where she saw King deliver his speech criticizing the Vietnam War.
“I loved Dr. King,” she said, sitting down in her walker in the shade in the grassy median along Independence Avenue.
“I’m a pacifist. I beieve in nonviolence.
“I was devastated by his death,” she continued, placing one hand over heart at the memory. “I couldn’t believe he was gone. But I believe his legacy should be remembered, and I want to be part of that.”
It wasn’t easy traveling to Washington by bus for the ceremony, she said.
“But I just felt I had to be here today.”
One of the first speakers was Christine King Farris, King’s older sister, and the living person, she noted, who knew him the longest.
“He was my little brother,” she told the crowd, which spread before a stage set up in a huge field adjacent to the memorial.
“During my life, I watched a baby become a great hero,” she said.
She said she was overwhelmed by “this beautiful monument which brings honor to our country and hope to future generations.”
11 a.m. A non-white crowd
There are few white people in the crowd that is overwhelmingly African American, says the Post’s Carol Morello.
“I’m surprised more white people aren’t here,” said Sophie LaBelle, 19, a George Washington University sophomore from Scottsdale, Ariz., who came with her twin and a friend. All are white.
“It seems like something everyone should go to,” said her friend, Anna Hirt, also 19, of Ogdensburg, N.Y.
“It’s like what his children were saying earlier. His message is universal,” Hirt said.
Live video of speeches here . President Obama is due shortly to speak.
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10:45 a.m. Families bring their young
Victoria and Jameelah Samuels of Laurel, Md. are among thousands of families in the largely African American crowd at the King memorial dedication who have brought their young children.
“We want them to learn his legacy and what he stood for, and that’s how we want them to live their lives,” said Jameelah Samuels.
As the crowd waits for President Obama, who is to speak soon, 12-year-old Jeremiah Samuels offered a clear understanding of who King was and what he represents.
King “gave a speech that was so powerful. And he wanted blacks and whites to live in peace,” Jeremiah said.
Nick Eli, a high school German teacher in Iowa, was visiting his brother in Arlington and came to the memorial. He said he hoped to soak up the speeches and ceremony and pass along King’s values to his students.
“I sometimes see a sense of entitlement among young people,” Eli said. “I want to let them know that a lot of the things they are able to do today is because of him and his contributions.”
10 a.m. More than 10,000 appear to be in the audience
The Post’s Michael Ruane says it is now standing room only at the King memorial dedication, as spectators continue to stream into the site on the northwest side of the Tidal Basin, near Constitution Avenue.
There were 10,000 folding chairs available to the public but they all appear occupied. Spectators can stand, and can also bring their own chairs and blankets.
King’s work is far from done, said Jesse Jackson, one of an array of speakers at the dedication.
9:30 a.m. Selling buttons on Constitution
The Post’s Theola Labbe-DeBose talks with button hawker Tango Sawyer near 17th and Constitution NW, who is trying to entice people who are heading to the King dedication ceremony
“Buttons! Buttons! Buttons!”
Tango Sawyer shouted to anyone who would listen--the cabs that kept pulling up to the corner and letting out families; the diverse groups of people walking towards the Martin Luther King Memorial dedication ceremony, where a musical tribute is underway and President Obama is scheduled to speak at 11 a.m.
Most of Sawyer’s buttons address the Tea Party, with a sly hint to racial politics (”The Tea Party is not my cup of tea, we need a Hot Chocolate Party”). But he was selling dozens of Martin Luther King buttons for $3, featuring the iconic visage of the slain civil rights leader.
“I see young people, old people, black, white, everybody, coming together to give props to Dr. King,” said Sawyer, who has long, gray shoulder length dreadlocks and gave his age as “ageless.” “It’s a beautiful day.”
9 a.m. Musical tribute kicks off dedication ceremony
George and Juanita Dailey, of Lexington, Ky., were among many disappointed in August when the ceremony was canceled because of Hurricane Irene. Undaunted, they are in Washington again, eager to participate and honor King.
“Looking back now, the world is quite a different place,” said George Dailey. “A lot of it can be attributed to the impact of this man.”
“At the time we knew his contribution to blacks and American society was important, but we didn’t know just how important it turned out to be,” he said.
Juanita Dailey is a veteran of lunch counter sit-ins, key events that helped launch the civil rights movement in the United States.
She also recalls being ordered to sit in the back of public buses she rode, and being denied hotel rooms because of the color of her skin.
Those who barely remember the movement have also come to honor King.
Timothy Bryant of Charleston, S.C., came on one of five buses chartered by the Martin Luther King Foundation that left from Raleigh, N.C.
Bryant, who is 50, said one of his earliest memories as a little boy is the day King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn.
“Now it’s time foer my generation to step forward for justice and freedom for all Americans,” he said.
8 a.m. Welcome to the Martin Luther King National Memorial live blog
Good morning. Today is the day, at long last, for the dedication of the new Martin Luther King National Memorial on the Mall in downtown Washington. We have reporters on the scene already this morning on the northwest side of the Tidal Basin, off of Independence Avenue. The dedication is free, and no tickets are needed. Anyone wishing to attend may also bring picnic blankets and chairs. The foundation that created the memorial also has set up a stage and 10,000 folding chairs.
President Obama is scheduled to give the main speech at 11 a.m., but ceremonies are scheduled to begin around 8 a.m.
The dedication was delayed for seven weeks after Hurricane Irene forced postponement of the original ceremony. It had been set for Aug. 28, the 48th anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream,” speech, urging full integration in the then segregated United States.
You can keep up with today’s events with our live blog on Post Now as well as tweets from the Post’s Tim Smith. Follow him @TimSmithWP.