Obama: ‘Because they kept marching, America changed.’
50 years to the day after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the historic “I have a dream” speech, President Barack Obama marked the anniversary by delivering remarks of his own.
Five years to the day from when the Sen. Barack Obama accepted the democratic nomination for president, He addressed myriad issues facing America, as well as what King’s dream means to people today regardless of class or color.
Obama’s verbal prowess didn’t and couldn’t match King’s. After downplaying his own oratory, he gave a soaring, safe speech to a largely subdued, while attentive and satisfied crowd.
“We rightly and best remember Dr. King’s soaring oratory that day,” Obama said. How he gave mighty voice to the quiet hopes of millions, how he offered a salvation path for oppressed & oppressors alike. His words belong to the ages possessing a power and prophecy unmatched in our time.”
While Obama especially honored King, he also called on the audience and those listening to remember the nameless attendees of the March on Washington and participants in the civil rights era.
“But we would do well to recall that day itself also belonged to those ordinary people whose names never appeared in the history books, never got on t.v.,” he said. “Many had gone to segregated schools and sat at segregated lunch counters. They lived in towns where they couldn’t vote and cities where their vote didn’t count.”
Obama did decry how he thought those seeking advancement might have lost their way.
“The anguish of assassination set of self-defeating riots,” he said “Legitimate grievances against police brutality tipped into excuse making for criminal behavior. Racial politics could cut both ways as the transformative message of unity and brotherhood was drowned out by the language of recrimination.”
Obama tied a direct line between the activism of the civil rights era and his fortune today.
“And because they kept marching, America changed,” Obama said of the unnamed participants…Because they marched city councils changed and state legislatures changed and Congress changed and, yes, eventually the White House changed.” This remark was met with possibly the crowd’s loudest applause during Obama’s remarks.
Obama took time to address those, he said, doubted the significance of change since the civil rights era.
“To dismiss the magnitude of this progress, to suggest as some sometimes do that little has changed, that dishonors the courage and sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those years,” he said
Obama also chided those, he added, who think America’s work is done in working toward equality.
“But we would dishonor those heroes as well to suggest that the work of this nation is somehow complete,” he said. “The arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own.”
And avoiding the safety of an entirely apolitical speech, Obama challenged those seizing on the opportunity of the US Supreme Court’s recent action on the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“To secure gains this country has made requires constant vigilance,” Obama said. Whether by challenging those who erect new barriers to the vote, or ensuring that the scales of justice work equally for all and the criminal justice system is not simply a pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails, it requires vigilance.”
Not avoiding the specter of the economy that seems to loom over every national political story, Obama tied the march and speech 50 years ago to the economic struggles and desires of today.
“For the men and women who gathered 50 years ago were not there in search of some abstract idea,” Obama said. “They were seeking jobs as well as justice, not just the absence of oppression, but the presence of economic opportunity.”
Obama seized on his opportunity with a stellar speech in shadow of King’s legend.
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