WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is leading the civil rights pioneers of today and two of his predecessors in a celebrative but solemn commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech of yesteryear, saluting his fight for equal opportunity.
Large crowds thronged to the National Mall and the Lincoln Memorial where King, with a soaring, rhythmic oratory and a steely countenance, pleaded with Americans to come together to stomp out racism and create a land of opportunity for all.
Slaty gray skies and a light drizzle greeted the earliest arrivals for an observance that seemed likely to take on a more formal, serious tone, than a commemorative rally last Saturday. People eager to get a close-up view of Obama and former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton clustered at a security checkpoint. And National Guard troops were arrayed along fence lines encircling the Mall from the World War II Memorial to the Lincoln Memorial.
The scheduled appearance later Wednesday of Obama, the first African-American president, was certain to embody the fulfilled dreams of hundreds of thousands who rallied there in 1963. Obama has not often talked publicly about racial issues in the time he has been president. He did, however, talk at some length about the challenges he faced as a young black male as he discussed the case of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teen-ager killed in a confrontation with neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
When Obama took office in January 2009, he had broken through barriers that many before him could only approach. But his presidency has been marred by racist backlash and his administration has found itself still taking on battles thought won, such as ensuring equal access to the voting booth.