A speech by US President Barack Obama, and bell-ringing around the country, marked 50 years since civil rights leader Martin Luther King ended his landmark “I have a dream” speech.
Capping a week-long celebration of King’s historic call for racial and economic justice, Obama spoke on Wednesday at the Lincoln Memorial, the site of King’s address on August 28, 1963.
With Biblical references, Obama used the refrain, “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, adding income inequality, however, troubled inner cities.
“There were couples in love who couldn’t marry. Soldiers who fought for freedom abroad but couldn’t find any at home,” Obama said, speaking of King’s era. “America changed for you and for me.”
Obama said King is one of two people he admires “more than anybody in American history.”
“The other is Abraham Lincoln.”
A bell rang at 3pm EDT (19:00 GMT), 50 years to the minute after King ended his clarion call of the civil rights movement with the words “Let freedom ring.”
America changed for you and for me.
Tokyo and the Swiss city of Lutry were also taking part, said Atlanta’s King Center, one of the event’s organisers.
Former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton also addressed the crowd at the ceremony in Washington.
“This march, and that speech, changed America,” Clinton declared.
Carter said King’s efforts had helped not just black Americans, but “In truth, he helped to free all people.”
King, a black clergyman, Nobel laureate and advocate of non-violence, was among six organisers of the 1963 “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” where he made his address.
King, who was assassinated by a white prison escapee in 1968, is credited with helping spur passage of sweeping civil rights laws.
The ceremony on Wednesday will be a culmination of events all week that served to honour the legacy of the original March on Washington, but also emphasising the work left to be done..
It comes as almost 50 percent of Americans say much more needs to be done before the colour-blind society King envisioned is realised, and .
Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Florida teenager who was gunned down earlier this year, was frequently invoked among participants in the commemorative events, as were recent efforts by Republican-led state legislatures to impose restrictions on voting which many say is an attempt to disenfranchise minorities.
“I was too young to be here 50 years ago, and the recent attacks on civil rights made me feel like I had to be here,” Catherine Hourcade, 65, who flew from California to commemorate the anniversary told Al Jazeera.
Hourcade said she was inspired by those from modest backgrounds like her who, 50 years ago, were determined to have their concerns heard. “People in my circumstances said we are going to be here and they were,” she said.