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SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream and thousands of people, including Jamie Foxx, Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker, turned out to commemorate his towering "I Have a Dream" speech and the historic March on Washington.
The threesome were among the list of speakers addressing a crowd estimated at 200,000 on the National Mall on Wednesday along with President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Dr. King's family, and former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
The remembrance on the steps in front of the Lincoln Memorial on this drizzly, overcast afternoon paid tribute to the martyred Civil Rights icon and the soaring vision of racial equality he laid out back in 1963 which helped end segregation once and for all by prompting the passing of the Civil Rights Act a year later.
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"I'm not even probably going to read from the teleprompter because I'm just going to speak from my heart," the Ray star told the audience. "I'm going to tell you right now that everybody my age and all the entertainers, it's time for us to stand up now and renew this dream. That's what we gotta do. I was affected, I was affected the Trayvon Martin situation. I was affected by Newtown. I was affected by Sandy Hook. I'm affected by those things. So it's time for us now to pick up."
Said Winfrey to cheers a little later: "I remember when I was 9 years old and the March was occurring and I asked my mama, 'Can I got to the March?' Took me 50 years, but I'm here."
She also reiterated King's call to justice through nonviolence: "He's the one who reminded us that we will never walk alone. He was after all a drum major for justice, so as the bells toll today, let us reflect on the bravery. Let us reflect on the sacrifice of those who stood up for freedom, who stood up for us, whose shoulders we now stand on. And…let us ask ourselves how will the dream live on in me, in you, in all of us?"
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
At 3 p.m., Obama stood by as King's relatives rang a bell of freedom that was brought from the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., where four little girls died as the result of a bombing (an incident documented in Spike Lee's Four Little Girls).
A performance by gospel and Broadway star Heather Hedley followed, after which the commander in chief, no slouch in the oratory department, addressed the crowd, though he was better than the low expectations he set during a Tuesday interview when he told Tom Joyner, "It won't be as good as the speech 50 years ago."
"We rightly and best remember Dr. King's soaring oratory that day. How he gave mighty voice to the quiet hopes of millions. How he offered a salvation path for oppressed and oppressors alike," said Obama. "His words belonged to the ages, possessing a power and a prophecy unmatched in our time."
Added the nation's first black president: "Because they marched, city councils changed and state legislatures changed and congress changed, and yes, eventually the White House changed. Because they marched, America became more free and more fair. Not just for African-Americans."
Meanwhile to mark this anniversary, NBC News asked Americans to offer up their dreams for a better future by completing the statement, "I have a dream that…."
One Direction offered up their thoughts: "I have a dream that one day hunger will not exist, peace will rule the earth and everyone will just get on. It will be nice! And bullying will be gone," said band member Harry Styles.
A slew of celebrities subsequently responded on Twitter with the hashtag #DreamDay. Here's a sampling of their dreams:
Chef Curtis Stone: "I have a dream that all in America will receive enough to eat- for 1 in 6 people in the US, hunger is a reality @FeedingAmerica #DreamDay"