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Biden, Harris mark 10-year anniversary of King, Jr. memorial in D.C.

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Biden, Harris mark 10-year anniversary of King, Jr. memorial in D.C.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris arrive Thursday for a ceremony marking the 10th Anniversary of the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial near the Tidal Basin on the National Mall. Photo by Oliver Contreras/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 21 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris recognized Thursday the 10-year anniversary of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial on Washington, D.C.'s National Mall.

Biden and Harris spoke of the relevance of the civil rights icon's legacy to today as the Biden administration fights for voting rights legislation, police reform and social welfare spending, amid division on racial and economic justice issues, at the anniversary commemoration.

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"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy," one of Dr. King, Jr.'s quotes engraved on the North Wall of the memorial reads.

The commemoration was held Thursday afternoon at the memorial site near the Tidal Basin on the National Mall where the 30-foot sculpture of King's likeness sits, as the first African-American figure recognized in that way, as part of The Memorial Foundation events.

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It also came on the heels of Senate Republicans blocking a voting rights bill that contained the vast majority of the key voting provisions of the For the People Act, another piece of legislation designed to confront voter suppression, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

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Biden pointed out the failure in Congress to reach a consensus to move forward on police reform and legislation to protect voting rights, but pledged to continue fighting for both.

"The most un-American thing that any of us can imagine, the most undemocratic and unpatriotic, and yet sadly not unprecedented, time and time again we have witnessed threats to the right to vote and free and fair election come to fruition," Biden said at the ceremony Thursday. "Each time we fought back and we have to continue to fight today."

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Biden also said the voting rights battle was "far from over," referencing the voting rights bill named after the late the civil rights icon and late congressional representative John Lewis, who marched with King. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill as early as next week.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which was passed in the House in August, seeks to restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act after a 2013 Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder, gutted a key provision, ruling that states with a history of voting discrimination no longer needed federal permission to change their election procedures.

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"We all deserve to be treated equally," Biden also said. "We've never lived up to that idea, but we've never walked away from it fully."

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"From here, you see the ongoing push and pull between progress and struggle, over the self-evident truths of our democracy," he added. "We now face an inflection point and the battle, literally, for the soul of America."

Harris -- the first woman, first Black and first South Asian American vice president -- also spoke about continuing King's push for voting rights, along with racial and economic justice issues.

"Today, as a nation we must summon our own power as leaders, we must leverage our own power, and we all have a role to play and the president and I are clear on ours," Harris said. "We are and must be unwavering in the fight and we must use our voice to call out any effort to obstruct justice. And to call for justice everywhere."

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"Remember -- and Dr. King knew this -- America is not defined by her perfection. America is defined by our commitment to perfecting and in our nation that will forever be the way forward."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also gave remarks at the ceremony.

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"We must make real the promises of democracy for families lacking affordable healthcare, childcare, lacking good paying jobs with dignity and justice," Pelosi said. "We must make real the promise of democracy for Americans denied their right to vote and have equal justice under the constitution. We must make real the promise of democracy for communities of color facing police violence and racial injustice."

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The original dedication took place on October 16, 2011, with President Barack Obama and then-vice president Biden.

"From this day, we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s return to the National Mall," Obama said then, referring to King's "I Have a Dream" speech during the 1963 March on Washington.

"In this place, he will stand for all time, among monuments to those who fathered this nation and those who defended it; a black preacher with no official rank or title who somehow gave voice to our deepest dreams and our most lasting ideals, a man who stirred our conscience and thereby helped make our union more perfect," Obama added.

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