As tens of thousands gathered in the nation's capital to mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's call for economic justice and racial equality, Minnesotans marched to the state Capitol in St. Paul.
In the sweltering heat of the late summer sun, about 150 people commemorated the historic March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs event with spirituals, hip-hop and a reading of King's "I Have a Dream" speech.
"Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi," read 12-year-old Cherrish Maxon of Minneapolis. "From every mountainside, let freedom ring."
The event in St. Paul celebrated the strides African-Americans have made in the last half century, including the election of President Barack Obama to a second term. But the United States has yet to fully achieve King's dream of racial equality, said Harrison Bullard, who helped organize the march for the Service Employees International Union.
Community organizer Vaughn Larry agreed. He argued that the nation is regressing when it comes to racial equality.
"With the disparities in our schools, with the jobs, it's starting to turn back the hands of time," Larry said. "It looks like it's starting to change back into the '50s and the '40s with some of these laws that are being passed."
Larry is especially troubled by laws that require voters to present photo identification cards at the polls. Such laws are discriminatory, he said, because black people are less likely to have a photo ID.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat who represents Minnesota's Fifth District, also opposes voter ID laws. But he told the crowd the march toward equality isn't in retreat.
"Pessimism and cynicism never change the world, but creative optimists change the world," he said.
While Ellison rejects pessimism, he said it will take a lot of work to fully realize King's dream.
"Fifty years from now we want to be free. We want to be equal. We want to be paid. We want to be prosperous. We want to be healthy. We want to have a clean environment," Ellison said. "We want to have everybody, whether you're born in America or not, to be able to immigrate freely and connect with your family no matter where they're from. The time for justice is now. The fight must continue."
Standing behind Ellison were six children -- ages 10, 11 and 12. He told them because of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement they'll never have to know segregation. But he urged them to remain focused on the struggle for equality.
"Because those people made that sacrifice for you, you have a duty, obligation and responsibility to make this world better for the next generation, too," Ellison said.