WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is claiming his place in Martin Luther King's 50-year-old dream, holding himself up as a symbol of the change King envisioned.
But he also pointed to the nation's lingering economic disparities as evidence that King's hopes remain unfulfilled. Obama spoke at Lincoln Memorial Wednesday on the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington.
With Biblical references and the cadences of a preacher, Obama used the refrain, quote, "because they marched," as he recited the achievements of the civil rights movement.
Laws changed, legislatures changed and even the White House changed, Obama said. But he says income inequality, troubled inner cities and stagnant wages amid growing corporate profits show challenges remain.
Organizers said people at more than 300 sites in nearly every state will rang their bells at 3 p.m. their time Wednesday or at 3 p.m. EDT, the hour when King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington.
On Aug. 28, 1963, as King was wrapping up his speech at the Lincoln Memorial, he quoted from the patriotic song, "My Country 'tis of Thee."
King implored his audience to "let freedom ring" from the hilltops and mountains of every state in the nation, some of which he cited by name in his speech.
"When we allow freedom to ring — when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last, free at last, great God almighty, we are free at last," King said in closing.
On Wednesday, bells answered his call from each of the specific states King named, as well as at other sites around the nation and the world. At the Lincoln Memorial, President Barack Obama and former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter joined members of the King family and Georgia Rep. John Lewis, who also spoke at the March on Washington, in ringing a bell that hung in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., before the church was bombed in 1963, organizers said.
International commemorations were held at London's Trafalgar Square, as well as in the nations of Japan, Switzerland, Nepal and Liberia. London Mayor Boris Johnson has said King's speech resonates around the world and continues to inspire people as one of the great pieces of oratory.
"The response to our call to commemorate the March on Washington and my father's 'I Have a Dream' speech has been overwhelming," King's daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, said in a written statement.
Some of the sites that hosted ceremonies were symbolic, such as the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kan., a monument to the landmark Supreme Court case that outlawed segregated schools in 1954. Bells will also be rung at Lookout Mountain in Tennessee and Stone Mountain in Georgia, a site with a Confederate memorial that King referenced in his speech.
King preached his final Sunday sermon at the National Cathedral in 1968 before traveling on to Memphis, Tenn., where he was assassinated. King had been turning his attention more toward economic inequalities with his Poor People's Campaign, moving beyond solely racial issues to talk about all poor people and high unemployment.
"My feeling is that 50 years later, we need to look at ourselves and our own diversity and our own need to be more open and inclusive and diverse than we have been historically," Hall said. The anniversary is a reminder, he said, "of what a powerful moment that march was in American history and how it really calls us to try to keep faith with the work that was begun 50 years ago."___
March on Washington Commemoration: http://officialmlkdream50.com
King's "I Have a Dream" Speech: http://www.archives.gov/press/exhibits/dream-speech.pdf