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Washington (CNN) -- In what resembled more a revival than a political rally, conservative talk show host Glenn Beck urged the large crowds at his "Restoring Honor" event Saturday to "turn back to God" and return America to the values on which it was founded.
"Something beyond imagination is happening," he told participants who packed the National Mall in Washington. "America today begins to turn back to God. For too long, this country has wandered in darkness."
The rally drew fire for its timing and location.
People filled the park by the Lincoln Memorial's reflecting pool, in the shadows and echoes of the most pivotal civil rights address in America's history -- the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech, which he delivered there 47 years ago.
Some of those who marched with King said Beck had usurped the day for his own political gain. The Rev. Jesse Jackson told CNN that Beck was mimicking King and "humiliating the tradition."
Other civil rights activists gathered nearby with the Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network in a "Reclaim the Dream" rally. Participants marched from a high school in northwest Washington, D.C., to the site of the future Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, just a few blocks from the Lincoln Memorial.
Beck said the site of his rally was appropriate to reflect on the legacy of King, "the man who stood down on those stairs and gave his life for everyone's right to have a dream."
A hero to many conservative voters across the country, Beck said his rally was nonpolitical and its mission was to honor American troops.
He struck a spiritual tone throughout the day, saying his role was to wake America up to the backsliding of principles, values and most importantly, faith. Earlier, he said "God dropped a giant sandbag on his head" to push him to organize the event.
"Look forward. Look West. Look to the heavens. Look to God and make your choice," he said. "Do we no longer believe in the power of the individual? Do we no longer believe in dreams?"
Beck, keenly aware of his critics, opened the rally shortly after 10 a.m. with the national anthem and immediately drew attention to the large crowd that stretched for six city blocks from the Lincoln Memorial along the parks surrounding the reflecting pool.
"I have just gotten word from the media that there are over 1,000 people here today," Beck said sarcastically.
"We are humbled that you are here," he said. "The reflecting pool holds about 200,000 people. This field back here holds about 250- to 300,000 people. They are not only full here, they're full in that field, they're full behind me, and they are now across the street approaching the Washington Monument."
Tea Party activists from across the country attended the event.
Speakers included former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a Fox News contributor, who said she came to speak not about politics but as "something more" -- as the mother of a soldier. She said America's men and women in uniform exemplified the virtues and values of America.
"Say what you want to say about me, but I raised a combat vet and you can't take that away from me," she said to a crowd that broke out in chants of "U.S.A! U.S.A!"
She also noted the anniversary of the famous civil rights speech, saying, "We feel the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr."
"We are so honored to stand here today," Palin added.
Rally organizers said Saturday's event was not political and asked participants not to carry signs, unlike past Tea Party demonstrations. The atmosphere Saturday was almost festival-like and participants were careful to say: "We're not angry."
Sue Maliszewski of Phoenix, New York, described herself as not conservative but someone who feels that her beliefs are no longer reflected in government.
"I believe that we are dysfunctional as a country," she said.
"I believe it's hopeless unless we get back to our roots," Maliszewski added. "And that means our faith, and it means, reorganize our time. We have been so busy earning a living and raising our children that we have let different small groups overpower our opinions. And we're here to ... reclaim what's wonderful about this country."
Beck had been heavily promoting the event on his Fox News Channel program and on his radio broadcasts. He said that the timing of the rally wasn't intentional.
"It was not my intention to select 8-28 because of the Martin Luther King tie. It is the day he made that speech. I had no idea until I announced it," he said on his radio show in June, soon after the announcement of the rally.
"Whites don't own Abraham Lincoln. Blacks don't own Martin Luther King. Those are American icons, American ideas, and we should just talk about character, and that's really what this event is about. It's about honoring character," Beck said.
Alveda King, a niece of the late civil rights leader, also participated in the "Restoring Honor" rally, saying that her uncle would have approved of the event.
"If Uncle Martin could be here today, he would sure commend us of giving honor where honor is due," she told a large, cheering crowd.
King said earlier she's been accused of hijacking "the dream," but on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" on Friday night, she said "the dream" is in her genes.
"I don't have to reclaim the civil rights movement, I'm part of the civil rights movement," she said, noting her family's home and her father's church were bombed when she was younger. While the NAACP put out a cautious statement regarding the rally, there has been plenty of criticism of the event.
Lenny McAllister, an African American Republican, was asked by the Tea Party to speak at Saturday's rally but declined. He said the rally was disrespectful to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"I cannot sit on stage and co-sign on this irresponsibility," he said. "I made sure I wore my elephant pin today. I am a proud Republican but I am also a proud African American man."
But Lloyd Marcus, another black Republican, said he supported Beck's efforts.
"Go Beck," he said. "This is a fantastic rally and the people there don't give a hoot about race."
CNN's Paul Steinhauser, Kate Bolduan and Rachel Streitfeld contributed to this report.