NBC News   |  October 16, 2011

Obama: We celebrate King's return to the National Mall

President Obama celebrates the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. during the dedication of a monument to the Civil Rights leader in Washington, D.C. Watch his entire speech.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> an earthquake and a hurricane may have delayed this day, but this is a day that would not be denied. for this day we celebrate dr. martin luther king jr .'s return to the national mall . in this place, he will stand for all-time. among monuments to those that fathered this nation and those who defended it, a black preacher, no official rank or title, who somehow gave voice to our deepest dreams and our most lasting ideas. a man who stirred our conscience, and there by help make our union more perfect. and dr. king would be the first to remind us many this memorial is not for him alone. the movement of which he was a part depended on an entire generation of leaders. many are here today. for their service and their sacrifice, we owe them our everlasting gratitude. this is a monument to your collective achievement. some giants of the civil rights movement , like rosa parks and dorothy height , benjamin hooks , they have been taken from us these past few years. this monument attests to their strength and their courage, and wil we miss them dearly we know they rest in a better place . and finally, there are the multitudes of men and women whose names never appear in history books. those who marched and those who sang, those who sat in and those who stood firm, those who organized and those who mobilized, all those men and women who drew countless acts of quiet heroism help bring about changes few thought were even possible. by the thousands, said dr. king, faceless, anonymous, relentless young people , black and white , have taken our whole nation back to the great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the formation of the constitution and the declaration of independence . to those men and women, to those foot soldiers for justice, know that this monument is yours as well. nearly half a century has passed since the historic march on washington . a day when thousands upon thousands gathered for jobs and for freedom. that is what our schoolchildren remember best when they think of dr. king. his booming voice across this mall calling on america to make freedom a reality for all of god's children, talking about when a day will be turned into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. it's right that we honor that march, and we lift up dr. king's "i have a dream" speech, without dr. king's glorious words we might not have had the courage to come as far as we have. because of that hopeful vision, because of dr. king's moral imagination, barricades began to fall, and bigotry began to fade. new doors of opportunity swung open for an entire generation. yes, laws changed, but hearts and minds changed as well. look at the faces here around you, and you see in america that is more fair and more free and more just than the one dr. king addressed that day. we are right to savor slow but certain progress, large and small across the nation, every single day as people of all colors and creeds live together and work together and fight alongside one another. and they learn together and build together and love one another. so it is right for us to celebrate today dr. king's dream, and his vision of unity. and yet it is also important on this day to remind ourselves that such progress did not come easily, that dr. king's faith was a hard one, that it sprung out of a harsh reality and some bitter disappointments. it is right for us to celebrate dr. king's marvelous or tory, but it is worth remembering that his progress did not come from words alone. progress was hard. progress was purchased through enduring the smack of billy clubs and the blast of fire hoses , it was bought with days in jail cells, and nights of bomb threats. for every victory during the height of the civil rights movement there were setbacks and defeats. we forget now, but during his life dr. king was not always considered a unifying figure. even after rising to prominence, and even after winning the nobel peace prize , dr. king was vilified by many, and denounced as a agitator, a communist and radical, and he was even attacked by his own people, by those that felt he was going too fast or those that felt he was going too slow. we know from his own testimony the doubts and the pain this caused him. and that the controversy that would swirl around his actions would last until the fateful day that he died. i raise all this because nearly 50 years after the march on washington , our work, dr. king's work, is not yet complete. we gather here at a moment of great challenge, and great change. and the first decade of this new century, we have been tested by war and by tragedy, by an economic crisis and its aftermath that have left millions out of work and poverty on the rise and millions more struggling to get by. and before this crisis struck, we had endured a decade of rising inequality and stagnant wages, and too many troubled neighborhoods across the country, and the poor residents see little change from 50 years ago. neighborhoods with underfunded schools and broken down slums, and inadequate health care and constant violence, and neighborhoods in which too many young people grew up with little hope and prospects for the future. our work is not done. and so on this day, in which we celebrate a man and a movement that did so much for this country, let us draw strength from those earlier struggles. first and foremost, let us remember that change has never been quick. change has never been simple or without controversy. change depends on persistence, and change requires determination. it took a full decade before the moral guidance of brown versus board of education was translated into the enforcement measures of the civil rights act and the voting rights act , but those ten long years did not lead dr. king to give up. he kept on pushing. he kept on speaking. he kept on marching until change finally came. and then even after the civil rights act and the voting rights act passed, african-americans still found themselves trapped in pockets of poverty across the country. dr. king didn't say those laws were a failure, and he did not say this is too hard or let's settle for what we got and go home. instead, he said let's take those victories and broaden our mission to achieve not just civil and political equality, but also economic justice . let's fight for a living wage and better schools and jobs for all who are willing to work. in other words, when met with hardship, when confronting disappointment, dr. king refused to accept what he called the isness of today. he kept pushing towards the oughtness of tomorrow. and so as we think about all the work that we must do, rebuilding an economy that can compete on a global stage, fixing our schools so that every child -- not just some, but every child gets a world class education, and making sure that our health care system is affordable and accessible to all and that our economic system is one in which everybody gets a fair shake, and everybody does their fair share , and let's not be trapped by what is. we can't be discouraged by what is. we have got to keep pushing for what ought to be, the america we ought to leave to our children, mindful that the hardships we face are nothing compared to those dr. king and his fellow marchers faced 50 years ago, and if we maintain our faith in ourselves and in the possibilities of this nation, there is no challenge we cannot s sir mount. just as we draw strength in dr. king's struggles, so must we draw inspiration from his constant insistence on the oneness of man. the belief in his words that we are caught in an inescapable network of mutualality, and it was that insistence in his christian faith that rooted him to tell a group of protesters, i love you as i love my own children, even as a rock glanced off his neck, and it was that insistence, that belief that god resides in each of us, from the high to the low, in the oppressor and the owe pressed, and it convinced him that people and systems could change. it fortified his belief, and it led him to see his charge as not only freeing blacks from the shackles of discrimination, but freeing americans of every color from t from poverty. so at this moment, which our politics appear so sharply polarized, and faith in our institutions so greatly diminished, we need more than ever to take heed of dr. king's teachings. he calls on us to stand in the other person's shoes, to see through their eyes and to understand their pain, and he tells us that we have a duty to fight against poverty, even if we are well off. to care about the child and the decrepit school. to say that we are bound together as one people, we must constantly drive to see ourselves in one another, and is not to argue for a false unity, the differences and it ratifies an unjust status quo. it was true 50 years ago and has been true throughout human history . those with power and privilege will often cry as any change as divisive, and they will say any change is unwise and destabilizing. dr. king understood that peace without justice was no peace at all. that aligning our reality with ideals often requires the speaking of uncomfortable truths and the created tension. and he understood that to bring about true and lasting change, there must be the possibility of reconciliation, any social movement has to channel this tension through the spirit of love and mutualality. if he were alive today, he would remind us the unemployed worker can challenge the excesses of wall street without demonizing all who work there. the businessman can enter tough negotiations with his company's union without vilifying the right without collectively bargaining. he would want us to know we can argue fiercely without questioning each other's love for this country. with the knowledge that in this democracy, government is no distant object, but rather an expression of our common commitments to one another. he would call on us to assume the best in each other, rather than the worst. and challenge one another in ways that ultimately heal rather than wound. in the end, that's what i hope my daughters take away from this monument. i want them to come away from here with a faith in what they can accomplish when they are determined and working for a righteous cause. i want them to come away from here with a faith in other people and a faith in a bough nevada lunt god. this will remind them of dr. king's strength, but to see him larger than life would do a dis disservice to what he taught us about ourselves, and he would want them to know that he had setbacks, because they will have setbacks, and he would want them to know they will have doubts because he had doubts, and he would want them to know he had flaws because all of us had flaws. dr. king was a man of flesh and blood and not a figure of stone that he inspires us so. 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 the darkest slums, he witnessed the highest reaches of the human spirit , because in those moments which the struggles seem most hopeless, he had seen men, women and children conquer their fear, and he saw the crooked places made straight and god make a way out of no way, and that is why we honor this man. because he had faith in us. and that is why he belongs on this mall, because he saw what we might become. that is why dr. king was so american, because for all the hardships we have endured, and for all our sometimes tragic history, ours is a story of optimism, and achievement and constant striving that is unique upon the earth, and that's why the rest of the world still looks to us to lead. this is a country where ordinary people find in their hearts the courage to do extraordinary things, and the courage to stand up in the face of resistance and to spare and say this is wrong and this is right, and we will not settle for what the cynics tell us we have to accept, and we will reach again and again no matter of odds for what we know is possible. that is the conviction we must carry now in our hearts, as tou tough as ties may be, i know there are better days ahead and i know this because of the man towering over us, and i know this because all he and his generation endured, we are here today in a country that dedicated a monument to that legacy. so with our eyes on the horizon, and our faith squarely faced in one another, let us keep striving, let us keep struggling, and let us keep climbing towards that promise land of a nation and a world more fair and just and more equal for every single child of god . thank you, god bless you, and god bless the united states of america .

>> the president appropriately now getting