Obama: King's dream partly met, still unfulfilled
President Barack Obama is claiming his place in Martin Luther King's 50-year-old dream, holding himself up as a symbol of the change King envisioned. But he also pointed to the nation's lingering economic disparities as evidence that King's hopes remain unfulfilled.
Obama spoke at Lincoln Memorial Wednesday on the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. With Biblical references and the cadences of a preacher, Obama used the refrain, quote, "because they marched," as he recited the achievements of the civil rights movement.
Laws changed, legislatures changed and even the White House changed, Obama said. But he says income inequality, troubled inner cities and stagnant wages amid growing corporate profits show that challenges remain.
"I don't have the feeling I had when I was 27. Now I'm 77," said Ducky Birts, who marched in 1963. "Things are better in some areas but it others it's worser."
Winnie Westbrook is 68 years old.
"I was there in '63 with my brother," she said.
Half a century after that historic march, a crowd gathered in the rain at the Lincoln Memorial. Only 54% of Americans believe that Dr. King's dream has been achieved, and just 21% of African-Americans do.
Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) is the sole surviving speaker from 1963.
"Fifty years later, we can ride anywhere we want to ride, we stay where we want to stay. Those signs that say white and colored signs are gone," he said.
All eyes were on America's first black president. Barack Obama did not descend from slaves and did not have family who suffered under segregation. But to many, Obama is a realization of King's dream.
"To secure the gains this country has made requires constance vigilance," the president said. "The gap in wealth between races has not lessened; it's grown."
"As we mark this anniversary, we must remind ourselves measure of progress for those who marched 50 years ago is not that this country would accept black into the ranks of millionaires, it was whether this country would join the ranks of a middle class life."
Bells rang out at churches across the country to commemorate the speech and march.