By Molly K. Hooper - 10/16/11 04:50 PM EDT
President Obama declared his optimism for the future of the country at the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial dedication on the National Mall Sunday morning.
“As tough as times may be, I know we will overcome,” Obama cried in a building crescendo at the conclusion of his speech. “I know there are better days ahead. I know this because of the man towering over us, I know this because all he and his generation endured.”
The president seemed to choke up as he continued, “we are here today in a country that dedicated a monument to that legacy so with our eyes on the horizon and our face squarely placed … let us keep striving, let us keep striving, let us keep climbing for that promised land of a nation that is more fair and more just and more equal for every single child of God.”
"Nearly 50 years after the March on Washington, our work, Dr. King's work is not yet complete. We gather here in a time of great challenge and great change," he said.
“His life, his story tells us that change can come if you don’t give up, he would not give up no matter how long it took because in the smallest hamlets and darkest slums he had witnessed the highest reaches of the human spirit, because in those moments when the struggle seemed most hopeless, he had seen men and women and children conquer their fears,” Obama said.
The nation’s first African-American president stood before a crowd including Martin Luther King Jr.’s fellow civil-rights leaders, lawmakers, Cabinet secretaries and interested visitors, and reminded them that the slain leader “had faith in us … because he saw what we might become.”
“That is why Dr. King was so quintessentially American, because for all the hardships we’ve endured … ours is a story of optimism and achievement and constant striving that is unique upon this earth,” Obama said.
First lady Michelle Obama, dressed in a crimson outfit, wiped away tears as her husband concluded his Dr. King-esque speech.
Linked arm and arm, Obama, Biden, the first lady and Dr. Jill Biden swayed as they joined the crowd and professional choir in a rousing chorus of the civil-rights era anthem "We Shall Overcome."
“Look at the faces out there … a lot of familiar faces there … damned if they are not getting old," Biden said to the president as the chorus died down in the background, seemingly unaware that the microphones were still hot.
The dedication was concluded with a surprise visit and performance of “Happy Birthday To You,” by musician Stevie Wonder, as Obama and the first lady shook hands in the crowd.
The Washington, D.C., Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation in West Potomac Park hosted the dedication, which was originally scheduled to take place on Aug. 28 but was rescheduled due to Hurricane Irene.