President Obama’s Address on 50th Anniversary of MLK ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech
Barack Obama marks anniversary of Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a Dream’ speech
Fifty years after Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a Dream” speech, Barack Obama assesses America’s progress.
In his address to thousands who gathered on the Washington Mall on Wednesday to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, President Obama paid tribute to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and to the anonymous millions who stood by King’s side during the civil rights fight of the 1960s.
Obama remembered those who could not marry the ones they loved because of so-called anti-miscegenation laws, African-American soldiers who fought for freedom abroad that they could not enjoy on U.S. soil and white Americans who could not stand by discrimination and sacrificed sometimes with their own blood .
“Because they marched, America became more fair,” Obama said. “America changed for you and me and the entire world grew strength from that example.”
Before Obama took the stage on Wednesday, former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton offered stirring tributes to King.
Carter lamented what King might have thought about recent the Supreme Court ruling that gutted voting right laws that he fought for or the high unemployment rate and incarceration rates plaguing the African-American community.
“There is a tremendous agenda ahead of us,” Carter said.
Clinton also spoke about the racial divide that he said still exists in the USA and the myriad problems facing the nation. But he also suggested that King would be disappointed by the partisan division that roils Washington. But Clinton posited that King “did not die to hear his heirs whine about political gridlock.”
“It’s time to stop complaining and put our shoulders against the stubborn gates holding Americans back,” Clinton said.
Obama wondered if over the years the progress that came in closing racial disparities as a result of the fight by King and his contemporaries obscured that the March on Washington was not just about a pursuit of racial justice but also about solving economic inequity.
“They were there seeking jobs as well as justice, not just the absence of oppression but the presence of economic opportunity. For those it profit a man, Dr. King would ask, to sit at an integrated lunch counter if he can’t afford the meal.”
When it comes to economic opportunity–the idea that anyone can approve their lot through honest work–Obama said the country has fallen short of King’s vision not just for the black community but all working Americans
While there have been examples of success in the African-American community that would have been unimaginable a half-century ago, black unemployment remains nearly twice as high as unemployment for whites and Latinos are close behind. Meanwhile, middle class Americans wages have stagnated while corporate profits have soared, Obama lamented.
“The position of all working Americans, regardless of color, has eroded, making the dream Dr. King described more elusive,” Obama said.
Obama was just a toddler when king delivered his seminal “I Have a Dream” address 50 years ago, but the words of the civil rights leader have served as a rhetorical and moral guidepost throughout his presidency.
As he emerged as a long-shot presidential candidate in 2008, Obama often quoted King on the campaign trail that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And in his 2008 election night victory speech, Obama echoed King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, when he intoned “the road ahead will be long, our climb will be steep.”
And in the lead up to the 50th anniversary commemoration of the March on Washington on Wednesday, Obama, the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, has embraced his role as the personification of King’s dream while repeatedly questioning whether the nation has lived up to that dream.
His address was the culminating moment for Obama in a summer in which he has repeatedly reflected on King’s legacy and taken stock of the country’s progress and failures to create a more economically and racially just society.