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Obama, marchers mark 50 years since King's 'Dream' speech

(Right to left) US President Barack Obama, Caroline Kennedy, first lady Michelle Obama, former talk show host Oprah Winfrey, former president Bill Clinton and Lynda Bird Johnson Robb listen to the National Anthem during the Let Freedom Ring ceremony
(Right to left) US President Barack Obama, Caroline Kennedy, first lady Michelle Obama, former talk show host Oprah Winfrey, former president Bill Clinton and Lynda Bird Johnson Robb listen to the National Anthem during the Let Freedom Ring ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. -- PHOTO: AFP
People listen as President Barack Obama speaks at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, on Wednesday, Aug 28, 2103, during the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. President Barack Obama led civil rights pioneers Wednesday in a ceremony for the
People listen as President Barack Obama speaks at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, on Wednesday, Aug 28, 2103, during the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. President Barack Obama led civil rights pioneers Wednesday in a ceremony for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech roused the 250,000 people who rallied there decades ago for racial equality. -- PHOTO: AP
US President Barack Obama speaks during the Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action marking the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC on Aug 28, 2013. Thousands gathered o
US President Barack Obama speaks during the Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action marking the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC on Aug 28, 2013. Thousands gathered on the mall on the anniversary of the march and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech. -- PHOTO: AFP
US President Barack Obama greets Martin Luther King III after speaking at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall on Aug 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. Obama and others spoke to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the US civil rights era March on Wash
US President Barack Obama greets Martin Luther King III after speaking at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall on Aug 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. Obama and others spoke to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the US civil rights era March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream Speech". -- PHOTO: AFP
President and CEO of the NAACP Benjamin Todd Jealous speaks during the Let Freedom Ring ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. The event was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dre
President and CEO of the NAACP Benjamin Todd Jealous speaks during the Let Freedom Ring ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. The event was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. -- PHOTO: AFP
Talk show host Oprah Winfrey (left) speaks during the Let Freedom Ring ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. The event was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech and th
Talk show host Oprah Winfrey (left) speaks during the Let Freedom Ring ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. The event was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. -- PHOTO: AFP
A crowd watches a giant screen in Times Square as U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech on Aug 28, 2013 in New York City. -- PHOTO: AFP
A crowd watches a giant screen in Times Square as U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech on Aug 28, 2013 in New York City. -- PHOTO: AFP
(Left to right) US President Barack Obama, former President Jimmy Carter, first lady Michelle Obama and former President Bill Clinton wave from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the commemoration ceremony for the 50th anniversary of the March
(Left to right) US President Barack Obama, former President Jimmy Carter, first lady Michelle Obama and former President Bill Clinton wave from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the commemoration ceremony for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech in Washington on Aug 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
President Barack Obama (left) and Oprah Winfrey greet members of the King family during the ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. -- PHOTO: AFP
President Barack Obama (left) and Oprah Winfrey greet members of the King family during the ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. -- PHOTO: AFP
Former US President Bill Clinton speaks from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a dream" speech in Washington on Aug 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: RE
Former US President Bill Clinton speaks from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a dream" speech in Washington on Aug 28, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
US President Barack Obama speaks during the Let Freedom Ring ceremony on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. The event was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech and
US President Barack Obama speaks during the Let Freedom Ring ceremony on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. The event was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. -- PHOTO: AFP
Former US president Bill Clinton, first lady Michelle Obama and US President Obama attend the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington o
Former US president Bill Clinton, first lady Michelle Obama and US President Obama attend the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on Aug 28, 2013. America is struggling to fully realise the vision that civil rights leader King described in his famous speech 50 years ago, as the goal of economic security for all remains elusive, Mr Obama said on Wednesday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - America is struggling to fully realise the vision that civil rights leader Martin Luther King described in his famous "I have a dream" speech 50 years ago, as the goal of economic security for all remains elusive, President Barack Obama said on Wednesday.

Mr Obama, the first black United States (US) president, spoke to thousands of marchers on Washington's National Mall on Wednesday to commemorate King's landmark address, which came to symbolise the struggle for equality among blacks and whites in America.

Mr Obama said King's speech inspired millions of Americans to fight for a more just society and rights that people now take for granted.

"To dismiss the magnitude of this progress, to suggest, as some sometimes do, that little has changed, that dishonors the courage, the sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those years," Mr Obama said.

"But we would dishonour those heroes as well to suggest that the work of this nation is somehow complete," he said, calling economic justice the "unfinished business" of the civil rights battle.

Marchers, many wearing T-shirts with King's face on them, began their walk near the US Capitol.

They were led by a line of military veterans and people who had been at the 1963 march, their arms linked. People sang We Shall Overcome and other civil rights anthems.

Fighting restrictive voting rights laws that Democrats say hurt minorities, combating joblessness and reducing gun violence among African Americans are among the issues that civil rights leaders put at the forefront of their efforts in 2013.

"This march was supposed to be about jobs, but it's about a lot more," said marcher Ash Mobley, 27, of Washington, who said she was there to represent her grandmother, who had been at the 1963 event.

The marchers heard speeches from former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and members of King's family on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the site of King's address on Aug 28, 1963.

A bell rang at 3pm EDT (3am Singapore time), 50 years to the minute after King ended his clarion call of the civil rights movement with the words "Let freedom ring." Ms Bernice King, his youngest child, urged the crowd to stay true to the ideals enunciated by her father.

"If freedom is going to ring in Libya, in Syria, in Egypt, in Florida, then we must reach across the table, feed each other and let freedom ring," she said.

ECONOMIC GAP PERSISTS

Mr Obama's address commemorating King, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and advocate of non-violence, comes as the White House edges closer to launching military strikes in Syria in response to what US officials say they believe was a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government on civilians.

Mr Obama has said the country's history of racial discrimination had contributed to a persistent economic gap between blacks and whites in the decades since King's speech.

Mr Obama, whose mother was white and whose father was black, has sometimes seemed reluctant to weigh in on persistent racial divides in the US, but he spoke forcefully about the issue last month after the man who killed black Florida teenager Trayvon Martin was acquitted.

The Let Freedom Ring And Call To Action ceremony comes as almost half of Americans say much more needs to be done before the color-blind society King envisioned is realised.

Wednesday's event caps a week-long celebration of King's historic call for racial and economic justice. They included a march on Saturday that drew thousands of people urging action on jobs, voting rights and gun violence.

King's speech is credited with helping spur passage of sweeping civil rights laws. A white prison escapee assassinated him in 1968.