Fifty year anniversary of Martin Luther King speech celebrated in Washington | Americas| North and South American news impacting on Europe | DW | 25.08.2013
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Fifty year anniversary of Martin Luther King speech celebrated in Washington

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets of Washington to remember the landmark speech by Martin Luther King fifty years ago. In the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing, many people spoke of challenges still ahead.

The marchers followed the route taken in 1963 by 250,000 people to the Lincoln Memorial to hear Martin Luther King Jr's famous "I Have a Dream" speech. The speech and march helped spur the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Eric Holder, the first African-American attorney general, thanked those who marched a half century earlier. He said he would not be in office, nor would Obama be president, without them. "They marched in spite of animosity, oppression and brutality because they believed in the greatness of what this nation could become and despaired of the founding promises not kept," Holder said on Saturday.

But the shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida last year and the acquittal of his killer who a jury found had acted in self-defense, together with the Supreme Court's recent decision to strike down a portion of the nation's voting rights law, prompted a number of speakers to talk of the challenges ahead.

"King saw the possibility of an Obama 50 years ago. The world is made of dreamers that change reality because of their dream. And what we must do is we must give our young people dreams again," civil rights leader Al Sharpton said.

Other activists cited persistent unemployment among African-Americans, which is about double that of white Americans. "This is not the time for nostalgic commemoration," said Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of the slain civil rights leader. "Nor is this the time for self-congratulatory celebration. The task is not done. The journey is not complete. We can and we must do more."

Saturday's gathering was the precursor to the actual anniversary of the August 28, 1963 March on Washington. On the day of the anniversary, President Barack Obama is to speak from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the same place King stood when he delivered his stirring speech.

King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 but was assassinated on April 4, 1968 at age 39.

jm/ccp (dpa, AP)