August 28, 2013

50th anniversary of the March on Washington: Obama exemplifies, honors 'Dream'

The first black U.S. president will pay tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of racial equality.

By DARLENE SUPERVILLE The Associated Press

Barack Obama was 2 years old and growing up in Hawaii when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Fifty years later, the nation's first black president will stand as the most high-profile example of the racial progress King espoused, delivering remarks Wednesday at a nationwide commemoration of the 1963 demonstration for jobs, economic justice and racial equality.

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Dorothy Meekins holds up a flag with a picture of President Obama as she attends the rally in Washington on Saturday commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. In an interview Tuesday, Obama said he imagined King “would be amazed in many ways about the progress we’ve made.”

The Associated Press

ANGUS KING -- WHO WITNESSED THE CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER'S SPEECH IN 1963 -- TO DELIVER 5OTH ANNIVERSARY REMARKS

WASHINGTON — Maine Sen. Angus King is expected to deliver brief remarks from the Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday as part of the ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

King was in the crowd on Aug. 28, 1963, as the late civil rights leader delivered those famous lines during an event that still ranks as the largest civil rights rally in U.S. history. Now 69 and a U.S. senator, King was invited by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to participate in Wednesday's events.

"It was an honor to witness Dr. King's speech firsthand, and it is again an honor to lend my voice in tribute to one of our nation's greatest and most noble leaders," King said in a statement.

Sen. King's office said the senator is slated to give his brief remarks around 11:30 a.m.

A host of civil rights and national leaders -- including President Obama and former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter -- are also slated to participate in the 50th anniversary ceremonies.

The event is scheduled to run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

– Kevin Miller, Press Herald Washington Bureau Chief

Obama believes his success in attaining the nation's highest political office is a testament to the dedication of King and others, and that he would not be the current Oval Office occupant if it were not for their willingness to persevere through repeated imprisonments, bomb threats and blasts from billy clubs and fire hoses.

"When you are talking about Dr. King's speech at the March on Washington, you're talking about one of the maybe five greatest speeches in American history," Obama said in a radio interview Tuesday. "And the words that he spoke at that particular moment, with so much at stake, and the way in which he captured the hopes and dreams of an entire generation I think is unmatched."

In tribute, Obama keeps a bust of King in the Oval Office and a framed copy of the program from that historic day when 250,000 people gathered for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Within five years, the man Obama would later identify as one of his idols was dead, assassinated in April 1968 outside of a motel room in Memphis, Tenn.

But King's dream didn't die with him. Many believe it came true in 2008 when Obama became the first black man Americans ever elected as their president.

"Tomorrow, just like 50 years ago, an African-American man will stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and speak about civil rights and justice. But afterward, he won't visit the White House. He'll go home to the White House," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday. "That's how far this country has come. A black president is a victory that few could have imagined 50 years ago."

"He stands on the shoulders of Martin Luther King, and the sacrifices that King made that make a President Obama possible are deeply humbling to him," said Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama's senior advisers and a close family friend.

For Obama, the march is a "seminal event" and part of his generation's "formative memory." A half century after the march, he said, is a good time to reflect on how far the country has come and how far it still has to go, particularly after the Trayvon Martin shooting trial in Florida.

A jury's decision to acquit neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in the 2012 fatal shooting of the unarmed, 17-year-old black teen outraged blacks across the country last month and reignited a nationwide discussion about the state of U.S. race relations. The response to the verdict also raised expectations for America's black president to say something about the case.

Race isn't a subject Obama likes to talk about in public, and he does so only when the times require it, such as the speech on race that he gave in 2008 when his presidential campaign was threatened by the anti-American rantings of his Chicago pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

In his interview Tuesday with Tom Joyner and co-host Sybil Wilkes of the Tom Joyner Morning Show, Obama said he imagines that King "would be amazed in many ways about the progress that we've made." He listed advances such as equal rights before the law, an accessible judicial system, thousands of African-American elected officials, African-American CEOs and the doors that the civil rights movement opened for Latinos, women and gays.

(Continued on page 2)

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