The memorial is the first dedicated to an African-American man on the National Mall and in its parks. President Barack Obama credited Martin Luther King Jr. with helping to pave his way to the White House as the nation's first black president.
Songs and prayers rang out on the National Mall in Washington at the dedication Sunday morning. Just before 8 a.m. Chicago time, the dedication choir wrapped up its rendition of "I Have A Dream." Those singing represented 12 states and even the country of Germany. Meanwhile, thousands gathered to officially dedicate the monument to King.
"He was my little brother, and I watched him grow and develop into a man who was destined for a very special kind of greatness," said sister Dr. Christine King Farris.
Members of Dr. King's family talked during the ceremony about the United States living up to the American dream and seeing the realization of Dr. King's dream. They said King would be humbled by the monument, but he would only be happy if children benefited from what it means: the man, the message and the movement.
"The entire King family is proud to witness this day. I am especially proud to stand here as one of the four children to whom my father referred as he resounded the American dream that one day we would live in a nation where we would not be judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character," daughter Bernice King said.
Speeches from civil rights leaders also filled the more than four hour-long ceremony -- some had fiery messages while others shared light-hearted moments.
"He was really just 5-feet-7 and he was always getting upset with tall people who looked down on him," said Andrew Young, an American diplomat, activist and pastor. "But now he's 30 feet tall, looking down on everybody."
The 30-foot King Memorial was 20 years in the making, and $120 million in funding was raised to build it. It is located in the tidal basin between two men -- two presidents -- and, as one person said Sunday, it iseems appropriate that the monument is located between two presidents as it is fit for a "king."
The president of the King Memorial fundraising efforts, Dr. Harry Johnson said he was heartbroken when the ceremony had to be postponed a few months ago, but Sunday, he said the event represented a dream deferred but not denied.
"My thoughts were thoughts of happiness really, a fulfillment that this has happened for the enjoyment of all who have come to see this. Again, this is not about me. It is about all of us and the community and as a country, as a nation, as a world, that we honor Dr. King in this manner. Dr. King was a hero," Johnson said.
Before Obama spoke at the dedication ceremony, he and the first family placed copies of both of his inaugural address and his 2008 speech at the Democratic National Convention in a time capsule at the memorial site.
"Dr. King understood that peace without justice is no peace at all," Obama said. "As tough as times may be, I know that we will overcome."
Local residents react to MLK dedication
Dozens of people from the Chicago area made the trip to Washington for the dedication. For Michael Halpern of LaGrange, the dedication was all about history.
"My parents marched on Montgomery and spent a lot of time following Martin Luther King's dream and it was an honor to be able to be here," Halpern said.
Chicago teacher Reggie Miles brought his students to witness and record this moment in the legacy of King.
"I want the students to connect the things that Dr. King stood for with the time they're living in now. I think there might be a little absence of activism and I want them to understand what activism really is," Miles said.
Maureen Forte organized a bus tour to Washington from Chicago, driving through the night to make to the ceremony on time.
"I am just so excited, in my lifetime, I was able to witness the election of the first black president. And, in my lifetime, to see this monument for Dr. Martin Luther King," Forte said.
"What Martin Luther King did brought both black and white together, and I feel if he hadn't had done that, I probably wouldn't be here right now," said Bryan Lantz, who led a group of students from Elgin Community College to the memorial dedication. He and his brother say they are proud to share this historic moment.
"I feel like it's probably something we will be talking about for a long time. We will take this experience back to chicagoland with us," Taylor Lantz said.
Edna Pearl Avery, 87, marched with King in Chicago and throughout the country.
"I'm just happy, I could just shout about it because I have a story to tell. I can tell my children and my grandchildren about it," Avery said.
The Rev. Joseph Lowery, who just turned 90 years old, also marched in the movement with King. His family spoke to those gathered Sunday about the meaning and the purpose of the King monument, and they said when they look at it sometimes, it often brings them to tears because it reminds them of how far the country has come, but it also reminds them of lives lost.
Sunday's dedication also included performances by Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow, James Taylor and the gospel duo Mary Mary. Former CBS news anchor Dan Rather and Rev. Jesse Jackson were also expected to speak.