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Obama, King Family, Celebs Observe March Anniversary

President: U.S. Has 'Unfinished Business' to Fulfill MLK's Dream

Barrington M. Salmon | 8/28/2013, 8:15 p.m. | Updated on 8/29/2013, 10:52 a.m.
President Obama and First Lady Michelle, Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton wave to the crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the "Let Freedom Ring" commemoration and call to action program on Wednesday, August 28. Photo by Shevry Lassiter

The Rev. Bernice King channeled her father in a speech that stirred the sizeable crowd.

"My father, the Great Liberator, commissioned us to go back to various cities, towns and hamlets and let freedom ring," she intoned. "That has reverberated through the decades coast-to-coast. He brought us back today with a clarion call to let freedom ring!"

King, the youngest child of Martin and Coretta Scott King, said she was honored to have three presidents present and reminded listeners that unlike 50 years ago when the male organizers relegated women to spectator status, 2013 was different.

"We have many women involved in planning and mobilization," said King, CEO of The King Center in Atlanta. "None were on the program in 1963, but we had women and several young people on the program today. It's a tribute and legacy of what went before."

Clinton quoted author Taylor Branch who wrote that the civil rights movement gained the force to open "the stubborn gates of freedom," and the result was the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, immigration reform, Medicare, Medicaid and open housing.

He encouraged enhanced vigilance.

"We cannot be disheartened by the forces of resistance to building a modern economy of good jobs and rising incomes or to rebuilding our education system to give our children a common core of knowledge necessary to ensure success or to give Americans of all ages access to affordable college and training programs," he said. "We cannot relax in our efforts to implement health care reform in a way that ends discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions — one of which is inadequate income to pay for rising health care — a health care reform that will lower costs and lengthen lives."

"Nor can we stop investing in science and technology to train our young people of all races for the jobs of tomorrow; and to act on what we learn about our bodies, our businesses and our climate. We must push open those stubborn gates."

At the end of the day, Inaya Payne-Wilks walked from the Mall with a look of satisfaction on her face.

"I thought it was very inspirational," the 14-year-old said. "My mom told me about my grandparents who were … at the march. We used to be very separated but we've come a long way."

Inaya, who was accompanied by her mother Donna, recalled hearing about segregated facilities, unfair and unlawful measures that punished black people and things she couldn't imagine happening to human beings.

"I know it was a time of fear but a lot has changed," said Inaya, a student at the exclusive Choate Boarding School in Connecticut. "There's lots of improvement."