WASHINGTON – Another large crowd is expected at the Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday for President Barack Obama’s speech at the spot where Martin Luther King Jr. made history 50 years ago.
The nation’s first African-American president is expected to discuss the progress and problems the nation has faced in pursuit of King’s dream that his children “will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Obama rarely talks directly about race, but in the days after the Trayvon Martin shooting verdict he delivered a sometimes personal analysis as to why Zimmerman’s acquittal struck a chord within the African-American community.
Perhaps offering a preview of Wednesday’s speech, Obama opened up again on Friday at a town hall meeting at New York’s Binghamton University when Anne Bailey, an associate professor of African-American history and African Diaspora studies, asked him where he thought the nation stood 50 years after King’s speech.
“Fifty years after the March on Washington and the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, obviously we’ve made enormous strides,” Obama told Bailey. “I’m a testament to it. The diversity of this room and the students who are here is a testimony to it. And that impulse towards making sure everybody gets a fair shot is one that found expression in the Civil Rights movement, but then spread to include Latinos and immigrants and gays and lesbians.”
Yet, Obama said the legacy of discrimination, including slavery and segregationist Jim Crow laws, means that “some of the institutional barriers for success” still exist.
He noted that African-American poverty in the United States is still significantly higher than for other groups, along with Latinos and Native Americans. He said it’s in “all our interest to make sure that we are putting in place smart policies to give those communities a lift.”
“Unfortunately, we’ve got politics sometimes that divides instead of bringing people together,” Obama said, adding that there is a “tendency to suggest somehow that government is taking something from you and giving it to somebody else, and your problems will be solved if we just ignore them or don’t help them. And, that, I think, is something that we have to constantly struggle against – whether we’re black or white or whatever color we are.”