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Son by his side, father remembers 'I have a dream'

People wait to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington on August 28, 2013
People cover themselves with rain-ponchos during the march to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington on August 28, 2013.

Fifty years to the day after he heard Martin Luther King Jr declare "I have a dream," Carter McLaughlin has a dream of his own -- to see his son succeed.

McLaughlin was 14 when he joined the March on Washington, which the United States marked Wednesday with President Barack Obama speaking from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where King delivered his iconic address.

"I wanted to bring my son here because it was special to me, but there's not as many people as I expected," said McLaughlin, as he stood on the US capital's National Mall where he heard King speak a half-century earlier.

Back then it was sunny, hot and humid, but there was "a lot of optimism for the future," remembered the longtime civil servant alongside his tall, soft-spoken 18-year-old son Philip.

"You had a lot of civil rights activism going on -- and this was a hub," he said of Washington at the time.

On Thursday, skies were grey, and light rain came and went -- no doubt putting a damper on turnout.

Security checks forced members of the public to wait an hour or more for their turn to enter the section of the Mall cordoned off for the commemoration.

Police closed key roads and bridges nearby. The federal government asked employees to work from home if possible. Heavy construction vehicles, meanwhile, were told to stay out of town for the day.

McLaughlin said he wouldn't miss Wednesday for the world, and neither would his son.

"I did really want to share this with my dad, because this is a really beautiful moment, seeing the impact that one genuinely good man can have on generations," the younger McLaughlin said.

In the space of a generation, he said, "racism definitely is not as prevalent, and we're thankful for that."

America has become "more of a melting point, and things are not as sensitive" as they were when racial segregation was the officially-sanctioned norm in many states, he added.

But "there's always newer problems" that have people fighting over things they shouldn't, he said, citing sexual orientation as an example.

His concerns, however, are more focused on realizing the American dream of securing a good job -- in his case, as a developer of video games, something unheard of in his father's youth.

And the elder McLaughlin's dream?

"To see his come true," he replied, turning to his son and smiling.

Elsewhere in the crowd, Edith Lee-Payne recalled how, as a 12-year-old, she accompanied her mother on the March on Washington -- and ended up in an iconic photograph of her looking intently at the day's speakers, a pennant in her hand.

"I'm so glad my mother brought me. I understand why she brought me, because it was important to her to also stand with everyone else and unite with everyone else," Lee-Payne told AFP.

"It was something that didn't end on that day. People went back to their respective communities and did what needed to be done and said what needed to be said.

"Still, a lot more needs to be said and done to make this a better place -- but we're making steps in the right direction."

On the fringe of Wednesday's commemoration was a variety of protesters, from animal rights activists to a couple in "be nice to sex workers" T-shirts and a group condemning "Eritrean organ harvesting by the Bedouin in the Sinai Desert."

Standing out in the crowd was Hassan Shabazz, 47, a construction worker and peace activist from Washington with provocative poster: "Dr King wouldn't vote for war criminals."

"His dream definitely was not bombing other countries," said Shabazz, denouncing the "hypocrisy" of Obama honoring King on the eve of an anticipated punitive strike on Syria.

"Dr King was a man of peace. President Obama is a man of war."

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