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Thousands march to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'Dream'

Tens of thousands of marchers converged on Washington, D.C., on Saturday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have adream" speech and to urge action on jobs, voting rights and gun violence.

"We believe in a new America. It's time to march for a new America," civil rights leader and MSNBCtelevision commentator Reverend Al Sharpton told the predominantly black crowd from the steps of theLincoln Memorial.

Sharpton and other speakers paid tribute to King and other civil rights leaders for progress over the past five decades that led to gains including Barack Obama's election as the first black U.S. president.

But the shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida last year and the Supreme Court's recent decision to strike down a portion of the voting rights law showed the struggle was not over, they said.

"King saw the possibility of an Obama 50 years ago. The world is made of dreamers that change reality because of their dream. And what we must do is we must give our young people dreams again," Sharpton said.

The "National Action to Realize the Dream" was led by Sharpton and Martin Luther King III, King's oldest son.

"We ain't going to let nobody turn us around. We're going to keep marching down to freedom land," King told the crowd. "I know that Daddy is smiling up above knowing that your presence here today will assure the fulfillment of his dream."

Martin Luther King III called on those gathered to carry his father's vision into the future.

"This is not the time for nostalgic commemoration. This is not the time for self-congratulatory celebration," King said. "The fight must continue."

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who was the youngest speaker at the 1963 march, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) urged new legislation to replace key parts of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the Supreme Court in June.

"You've got to push and pull and make America what it ought to be," Lewis exhorted the crowd. "Stand up, speak up, speak out and get in the way."

Others found resonance in subjects that were not on the agenda in 1963, including immigration reform, gay rights, gender equality and gun control.

Carrying a sign through the crowd that said, "CEO: $7,000/hour. Teacher: $19.42/hour. Absurd," Michael Gross was stopped repeatedly by people who took his picture or let out an "Amen!"

The university professor from North Carolina, whose parents were both teachers, was demonstrating against recent funding cuts to education in his state.

"This whole disparity is incredibly dangerous to our democratic republic," he said.

Many in attendance held signs with pictures of Trayvon Martin, whose death in February 2012 sparked a national debate over racial profiling and "stand your ground" laws. Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, was cheered loudly during a brief, emotional appearance.

For some attendees, the concerns of the original march still resonated.

"This is pretty much a reflection of where we were 50 years ago," said Linda Lydia, who had taken an overnight bus from Dallas with her local chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. African Americans are "still faced with joblessness. We're still confronted with employment issues of being the last hired and the first fired.

"We're moving backward as we're moving forward," she said.

Despite the talk of unfinished work, the mood of the day was often celebratory.