US President Barack Obama will take to the steps of
Washington's Lincoln Memorial Wednesday to mark the 50th anniversary of a
historic civil rights march.
The nation's first African American president will address a commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington that saw leader Martin Luther King Jr deliver his famed "I Have a Dream" speech, capturing the hopes of black Americans living under racial segregation.
King's speech came to capture the spirit of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, when laws across the US South kept white and black Americans in separate schools, movie theatres, restaurants and other facilities. African Americans were kept from voting with oppressive laws despite being granted the right to vote in the US Constitution following the Civil War of the 1860s.
"I have a dream," King repeated over and over, painting a picture of an America where African Americans would be treated with equal justice, and where his "four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character."
Celebrations marking the anniversary began at the weekend, with tens of thousands already packing Washington's National Mall for a march on Saturday.
Thousands were also expected for Wednesday's event, which in addition to Obama will feature remarks by civil rights veterans John Lewis and Andrew Young, as well as former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Former presidents George HW Bush and George W Bush were kept from attending for health reasons.
Those who have gathered for the commemorations have pointed to the progress made since that time, with the election in 2008 of the nation's first black president, but also the challenges that remain amidst ongoing economic disparities between races and a criminal justice system that observers say is disproportionately tough on African Americans.
Bells will ring across the country at 3 pm (1900 GMT) to mark the moment of King's speech and reflect his closing words to "let freedom ring" across the country.
King, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, fell to the bullet of a white assassin in 1968.
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