WASHINGTON -- Thousands gathered in Washington Sunday for the official opening of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. People from across the country and around the world descended on the nation's capital for the dedication.
"I specifically came for this particular event," Marie Davenport Schneider of Frankfurt, Germany said. "I was in the March on Washington."
Noha RafIka, an international student from Egypt, proudly spoke of Dr. King.
"Martin Luther King had an effect all over the world, even in Egypt. Everyone knows about him," Raflka said. "We always refer to [King] when we talk about liberty, justice, equality."
Labor of Love
The National Mall was crowded with people from all colors and ethnicities. Prayers were lifted, music was sung. It was a day of worship and heartfelt thanks.
"You could not do this without having God in your life," Harry E. Johnson, Sr., president and CEO of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Foundation, said. "You could not do this if in fact you did not have the Holy Spirit somewhere in your body."
Organizers raised $117 million of the $120 million needed for the memorial. General Motors was the first corporation to make a donation.
"No country has the talent, nor do we utilize it as much as America does. We try to give equal access and opportunity to all people," GM CEO Daniel Akerson said.
"A lot of that lies with what Dr. King was able to accomplish," he added.
Baltimore resident Helen Davis reacts to the memorial dedication.
The monument was a long time coming. The idea was birthed in 1983 by members of King's fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha, Fraternity, Inc.
"It tells my daughter and all young people that they can do anything they want to do," said Cleveland resident Tony Dunlap.
Dunlap wore the colors and symbols of Alpha Phi Alpha, Fraternity, Inc. and was all smiles as he talked about the moment.
"I didn't believe that it could actually happen. I'm just proud to be here," he said.
In 1996, Congress gave a nod of approval to honor King. The memorial stands on the National Mall right between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials.
The original dedication was set to take place Aug. 28, but was canceled due to Hurricane Irene.
"Perhaps the postponement was a divine interruption," Rev. Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., said. "To remind us of the King that moved us of from the dream of racial justice to the action and work of economic justice."
It was a beautiful day full of memories.
To peals of laughter, King's sister Christine King Farris said, "(I) knew Martin Luther King, Jr. longer than anyone now alive... He was my little brother and I watched him grow into a man who was destined for a special kind of greatness."
Emma Huff, who travelled from Georgia, brought all seven of her grandchildren to the event.
"I marched with Dr. King back in Montgomery, Ala., back in the early 60s," she said. "I grew up in the projects right behind Dr. King's house in Montgomery."
"I wanted them to know from whence come and for what he meant to me," Huff continued. "And the movement, because if it hadn't been for that, they probably wouldn't be where they are today."
Attendee Samuel Caldwell, Jr. reflects on King's life and legacy.
Her comments echoed a theme that weaved its way through the entire event.
"Without Martin Luther King, we possibly could have never happened," attendee Patricia Humphries said.
Humphries is a white woman who is married to an African American. She tearfully shared how much the dedication meant to her.
"It's given us a chance to bring families together. Our family's a melting pot," Humphries said.
"We have a brother-in-law who is Hispanic. We have adopted nieces who are biracial," her husband Chris added. "We're living the dream. We realize there's a lot more to be done, but we're going to do our part."
The First Family took a tour of the monument before President Barack Obama spoke to the crowd.
"We've got to keep pushing for what ought to be, the America we ought to leave to our children," Obama said.
The day was a reminder of how blessed we are.
"I did fight in Iraq and Afghanistan," said First Sgt. Mona D. Venning, JROTC Instructor at the Coretta Scott King Young Women's Leadership Academy in Atlanta. "And this just goes to show freedom is not free and when it does come about, it's just awesome.
"It's a touching experience. It really is," she added.