By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Marches, speeches and global bell-ringing are set to mark the 50th anniversary this month of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a dream" speech, a key event in the struggle of African Americans for racial equality.

The week of commemorations in Washington will culminate on Aug. 28, when President Barack Obama, the first black U.S. president, will speak at the Lincoln Memorial 50 years to the day after King made his historic address at the site.

King, an advocate of non-violence, was among six organizers of the 1963 March on Washington, a rally for jobs and freedom. King led about 250,000 marchers to the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall and delivered his signature "I have a dream" speech from its steps.

The March on Washington helped pressure Congress to pass the landmark Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts in 1964 and 1965, respectively. The Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in June, and Obama has called that ruling a setback.

King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. A white drifter assassinated him in 1968 at age 39.


Events in Washington will kick off on Wednesday with a commemorative service at Mount Airy Baptist Church. Seminars on women and young people in the civil rights movement and on March on Washington figures Bayard Rustin and A. Philip Randolph will take place in the following days.

Civil rights groups the National Urban League and King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) will also be holding events in Washington. The SCLC's international convention on Friday will feature debates on race and poverty and on voting rights.

The U.S. Postal Service will unveil a commemorative stamp on Friday, and a Sunday gospel brunch with opera singer Denyce Graves is tap. The National Park Service has scheduled numerous civil rights-related events on the National Mall.

The Smithsonian Institution has an exhibition at the National Museum of American History commemorating the 1963 march and the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln, complete with Lincoln's stovepipe hat.

The Smithsonian is holding a concert and a mock training session for participants in a desegregation sit-in, and is releasing a playlist of music from the civil rights movement. The National Portrait Gallery also has a show on King and his life.

The Newseum, a museum dedicated to U.S. media, started exhibits this month highlighting the role of students in the civil rights movement. They include a section of retailer F.W. Woolworth's lunch counter where North Carolina students started sit-ins in 1960.

On Saturday, some 100,000 people are expected at a march on Washington's National Mall organized by civil rights leader and TV commentator Al Sharpton and by King's oldest son. The "National Action to Realize the Dream" will group unions, civil rights and Hispanic groups and Democratic political leaders.

The march is focused on a host of issues, including jobs, voting rights, gun violence, women's rights and immigration. Speakers include the family of Trayvon Martin, the black Florida teenager shot dead by a volunteer watchman, and Georgia Democratic Representative John Lewis, the last surviving organizer of the 1963 march.

The "Let Freedom Ring" ceremony at which Obama will speak on Aug. 28 will include speeches by former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, both Southern Democrats. The commemoration will include the ringing of bells at dozens of U.S. sites at 3 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT), the time when King delivered his address.

Outside the United States, bell-ringing is also scheduled at sites including Katmandu, London and Tokyo, all at 3 p.m. local time, according to Atlanta's King Center, which is among the organizers of many of the commemorative events. (Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)

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  • His Name Was Changed

    Martin Luther King Jr. was christened Michael King Jr. When his father became pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1931, he adopted the name Martin Luther King Sr. — in honor of Protestant leader Martin Luther — When MLK was six years old, his father changed his name on his <a href=",+Harold+Faber&dq=Doris+Faber,+Harold+Faber&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Ljr9UO-nJ6je0gGo5IDAAg&ved=0CDgQ6AEwAA">birth certificate </a>to Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • He Skipped Two Grades

    He skipped the 9th and 12th grades in school and entered Moorehouse College at age 15.

  • He Sang At The "Gone WIth The Wind" Premiere

    In 1939, Martin sang with his church choir in Atlanta at the gala premiere of the movie "Gone With The Wind."

  • His Travels And Accomplishments

    From 1957 until his death in 1968, he traveled more than 6 million miles. He gave over 2500 speeches during his travels. He also wrote 5 books and had published countless numbers of articles in newspapers and magazines.

  • He Has Over 900 Streets Named After Him

    There are over <a href="">900 streets named after Martin Luther King, Jr.</a> around the world. Forty U.S. states have at least one MLK Jr. named road of their own.

  • He Spent His Wedding Night In A Funeral Home

    When Martin Luther King Jr. married his wife Coretta, the newlyweds were unable to stay in a white-owned hotel. Instead, the couple spent their wedding night at a <a href="">black-owned funeral home</a>.

  • He Was The Youngest Person To Receive A Nobel Peace Prize

    In 1964, at age 35, he was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

  • He Is The Second Most Admired Person

    According to a <a href="">1999 Gallup poll</a>, King is the second most admired person in the 20th century, coming in second to Mother Theresa.

  • His Favorite Foods

    Martin Luther King's favorite foods were <a href="">pecan pie and fried chicken</a>.

  • When He Died, He Had The Heart Of A 60-Year-Old

    Although he was only 39 at the time of his death, <a href="">autopsy results revealed</a> the Civil Rights icon had the heart of a 60-year-old. The doctor believed this was a result of stress.