WASHINGTON -- Fifty years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. offered a transcendent vision of racial harmony for America's future with his "I Have a Dream" speech, tens of thousands gathered where he spoke Saturday to hear leaders tell them that while much has been attained, much remains unfinished.
"Dreams are for those who won't accept reality as it is, so they dream of what is not there and make it possible," the Rev. Al Sharpton, an event organizer, told the throngs that pulsated with enthusiasm - laughing, cheering, nodding and clapping.
Orators speaking from the steps where King stood outlined what they said were promises yet unfulfilled in preserving voting rights, quelling gun violence, reducing economic disparity and achieving equal protection under the law. Among the thousands were more women, more Hispanics and more people representing sexual diversity - and more tech-savvy - than their predecessors 50 years before.
Many said they felt an inspiring sense of unity while witnessing history. "It's beautiful around here," said 17-year-old Margaret Foster, who attended with her mother, Tamilikia, from Lansing, Mich.
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the only surviving speaker from the original 1963 event, said the most brutal days of the civil rights struggle "for the most part are gone." But he said the struggle for a more perfect America goes on.
"We cannot give up. We cannot give out. And we cannot give in," Lewis said, urging that crucial elements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court be placed back into law by Congress.
"The vote is precious. It's almost sacred," he said.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the first African American to hold that post, laid out a broader mandate for today's activists.
"Our focus has broadened to include the cause of women, of Latinos, of Asian Americans, of lesbians, of gays, of people with disabilities. And of countless others across this great country who still yearn for equality," Holder said. "I know that in the 21st century we will see an America that is more perfect and more fair."
A message of cross-generational common cause extended from 1963 as a recurring theme Saturday.
"Me and my generation cannot now afford to sit back consuming all of our blessings, getting dumb, fat and happy thinking we have achieved our freedoms," said Cory Booker, the 44-year-old mayor of Newark, N.J., and Democratic candidate for Senate.
The most raucous crowd response was reserved for Sharpton, especially when he rebuked a young, black, male culture that tends to embrace guns and violence.
"Don't disrespect your women. Make it clear that you know that Rosa Parks wasn't no 'ho,' and (voting rights activist) Fannie Lou Hamer wasn't no b----," Sharpton bellowed from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Alternatively, he chastised a society that he said leaves these young men without a moral compass. "We need to give them dreams again, not to worry about sagging pants, but sagging morality," Sharpton said. "If we told them who they could be and what they could do, they would pull up their pants and get to work."
Keying on the fabled rhythm of King's "I have a dream" refrain, orators reveled in the repeated phrase, punctuating remarks with: "It's movement time," "Keep dreaming," "Redeem the dream" and "We still have work to do."
Sixteen-year-old Qion Nicholson's only knowledge of the original march was what he learned in school. Arriving by bus from Asbury Park, N.J., he said he now feels part of that history going forward.
"I'm grateful to be living in today's era," said Nicholson, of Sayreville. "The (original) march meant so much for our country."