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King's Dream Remembered

Four decades ago, Martin Luther King uttered four words — "I have a dream" — destined to become the echoing theme of the civil rights movement and the anchor of his legacy.

At commemorative events around the country, the question Thursday was whether King's vision had been realized.

On August 28th, 1963, when King spoke to a crowd of 250,000 people taking part in a "march on Washington for jobs and freedom," the civil rights movement was still confronting boldfaced segregation at lunch counters, drinking fountains and schools. That, by all accounts, is gone.

But Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP, says while minorities are better off in many ways, "enormous disparities" still exist between blacks and whites in education, income, and life expectancy.

Indeed, according to Census Bureau statistics, blacks are still poorer and less educated than their white counterparts and live shorter lives. But the gap has closed somewhat.

In 1989, whites had an average of $1.77 in income for every dollar a black person earned. In 1999, the year covered by the most recent census, per capita white income was down to 1.65 times black income.

The 2000 census showed that some 26 percent of whites and 20 percent of blacks had college degrees. Ten years earlier, 28 percent of whites and only about 17 percent of blacks had degrees.

The poverty rate has moved slightly in blacks' favor, from 29 percent in 1989 to about 25 percent ten years later. White poverty slipped from 9.7 to 9 percent over that period.

In 1963, whites were expected to live 70.8 years and blacks 63.7 years, 7.1 years less. In 2000, white life expectancy was 77.4 and the figure for blacks was 71.4 That 5.7 year difference was the smallest gap between the two races in the intervening forty years.

What numbers can't measure is the symbolic heft of King's speech that day, when he said: "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

King's dream was remembered Saturday by thousands who gathered at the Lincoln memorial, where he set out his vision — and laid a challenge that some say goes unfulfilled.

"Despite the progress we've made during the last four decades, people of color are still being denied a fair share of employment and educational opportunities in our society," said Martin Luther King III, his son.

To mark the anniversary of the March on Washington, King's widow, Coretta Scott King, urged the crowd to follow the peaceful path that her husband preached.

"We must make our hearts instruments of peace and nonviolence because when the heart is right, the mind and the body will follow," she said.

On Thursday, in Washington, King III, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, held a news conference on 40 years of civil rights progress.

Later in the nation's capital, the Kennedy Center and Georgetown University hosted a program featuring actor and civil rights leader Ossie Davis and others.

In Atlanta, the National Park Service's Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site and the M.L. King Jr. March Committee held a symbolic march and rally. Also in Atlanta, the King Center had a special presentation on the anniversary.

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