The Rev. Bernice King opened the celebration of her father’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech Wednesday with an interfaith service in Washington.
King said that her father, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., is often remembered as a freedom fighter for equal rights and human rights. But she said he was most importantly a man of faith. She says he was a prophet and “faith leader” and it was “the spirit of God that infused that movement.”
The faith community must continue to lead every movement for justice and equality, Bernice King said.
The opening service Wednesday included Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Sikh, and other Christian faith leaders celebrating King’s legacy.
Other speakers are the Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the National Cathedral; Catholic Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington; Rabbi Achonfeld of the Rabbinical Assembly; Imam Mohamed Magid of the Islamic Society of North America and others.
President Barack Obama spoke around 3:05 p.m. – nearly 50 years to the minute that Dr. King delivered his speech.
President Obama is holding himself up as a symbol of the change King envisioned. But he also pointed to the nation’s lingering economic disparities as evidence that King’s hopes remain unfulfilled.
With Biblical references and the cadences of a preacher, Obama used the refrain, quote, “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. But he says income inequality, troubled inner cities and stagnant wages amid growing corporate profits show that challenges remain.
Also speaking Wednesday was Oprah Winfrey, who said King forced the nation “to wake up, look at itself and eventually change.”
Winfrey said King recognized that Americans shared the same dreams and that their hopes weren’t different based on race. She says King was right when he said all Americans’ destinies are intertwined and would rise or fall based on how people treat their neighbors.
Winfrey asked her mother as a 9-year-old girl why her family wasn’t there for the march. It took her 50 years, but Winfrey finally arrived on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to mark the anniversary of King’s march.
Although former President George W. Bush, who is recovering from a recent heart procedure, is not attending Wednesday’s anniversary ceremony in Washington, he and his wife, Laura, say in a statement from Dallas that King’s “I Have a Dream” speech challenged the nation to live up to its founding principles that all people are created equal.
Bush said the nation has come a long way – “yet our journey to justice is not complete” and there is still a need to take King’s vision to every community in America.