WASHINGTON — Triangle residents young and old were among the thousands of people who gathered Sunday on the National Mall for the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
As the civil rights leader took his place alongside Founding Fathers like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, veteran Paul Hocutt of Raleigh felt vindicated.
"This is what I live for. This is what I had worked for," he said. "This is what I went to war for. I went to war for this right here."
The Raleigh Martin Luther King Committee organized the visit for dozens from the Triangle to join dignitaries from the civil rights movement, modern politics and the arts, including President Barack Obama.
"I know we will overcome," Obama proclaimed, standing beneath the 30-foot granite monument. "I know this," the president said, "because of the man towering over us."
The memorial is the first to a black man on the National Mall and its parks.
The dedication has special meaning for the Obamas, and the first couple and daughters Malia and Sasha made a more private visit to the site on Friday night, before the crowds and the cameras arrived. Obama credits King with paving his way to the White House. Before his remarks, the president left a copy of an inaugural speech in a time capsule at the monument site.
Glenda Thomas, of Raleigh, was on hand with memories and hopes for the future.
"I'm a child of the 60s and 70s," she said. "I saw what went on. I saw the dogs. I saw what happened. It wasn't a pleasant sight, but they achieved our right to vote, our right to go where we wanted to go."
Thomas and Bernard Dunn, of Tarboro, agreed that those who remember the civil rights fight must now pass it down to a new generation.
"The thing we have to do is to let them know how important it was to maintain the old school values," Dunn said.
Obama urged those present to harness the energy of the civil rights movement for today's challenges and to remain committed to King's philosophy of peaceful resistance.
In his talk, he referred protests against the wealthy and powerful that have spread from Wall Street and Washington to Raleigh and across the country. Obama said, "King would want us to challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing those who work there.
"Let us draw strength from those earlier struggles. Change has never been simple or without controversy."
Sunday's dedication had been rescheduled from late August. The memorial was complete then, but the wind and rain of Hurricane Irene forced organizers to postpone the event.
About 1.5 million people are estimated to have visited the 30-foot-tall statue of King and the granite walls where 14 of his quotations are carved in stone.
The sculpture of King with his arms crossed appears to emerge from a stone extracted from a mountain. It was carved by Chinese artist Lei Yixin. The design was inspired by a line from the famous "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963: "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope."
King's daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, said her family is proud to witness the memorial's dedication. She said it was a long time coming and had been a priority for her mother, Coretta Scott King, who died in 2006.
Bernice King and her brother Martin Luther King III said their father's dream is not yet realized.
He said the memorial should serve as a catalyst to renew his father's fight for social and economic justice.