Martin Luther King Memorial Dedication Hits Close to Home for Civil Rights Leaders

After years of planning and even a postponement, many will appear to not only remember Martin Luther King Jr., but to share in the memory of the civil rights struggle as well, during the dedication ceremony of the MLK memorial this Sunday in Washington, D.C.

Last August at a prayer event, prior to the previously scheduled King memorial dedication, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a longtime friend of King's and co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), revealed his thoughts while speaking at President Barack Obama's historic inauguration:

"And I heard the voice of a Baptist preacher coming from those steps… 'America, come up from the low land of race and color. Come up to the higher ground of character.' I heard it. I wanted to shout, but the president was sitting right there, so I said, between the lines, 'Thank you, Jesus,' " the United Methodist minister said at the time, according to USA Today.

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For many like Lowery, this dedication is not just for an icon, or a hero known only through the pages of history, but to a hard fought journey, to the struggles endured and to memories and friendship.

According to the Associated Press, five years ago, as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, U.S. Rep. John Lewis and former U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young, gathered together to participate in a ground breaking on what would become the site of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the three men, overcome by the realization of the moment, suddenly broke into tears.

"All of us had been to jail, all of us had lived under the threat of violence," said Jackson. "We all had that acute sense of social justice. None of us had life insurance, or a retirement plan. But we had each other. And we still do," Jackson said.

The dedication was originally scheduled for Aug. 28, which would have been the 48th anniversary of King's "I Have a Dream" speech. It was postponed, however, due to concerns over Hurricane Irene, which swept through Washington.

Sunday's event will feature an appearance by President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, along with many civil rights leaders, colleagues, and associates of the slain leader.

Performers slated to appear include Aretha Franklin, Mary Mary, Sweet Honey in the Rock and Jennifer Holliday to name just a few. The Dedication Choir is a specially selected group of 75 vocalists from across the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area and directed by the Rev. Nolan Williams, Jr.

Many will no doubt be moved by the figure of King, carved from stone, as he stands with his arms folded and eyes gazing toward the horizon. The towering 30-foot monument is the first to be dedicated to a black leader on the National Mall. The statue stands on a direct line between the Lincoln Memorial and Jefferson Memorial.

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