Fifty years ago, Wednesday, Aug. 28, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed a dream of freedom and equality aloud as a record quarter of a million people watched what is considered one of the greatest speeches in American history. ABC’s Byron Pitts said “Today is as much about the future as it is remembering the past … President Obama has spent part of this week meeting with African American mayors who have come to town, as well as lions from the Civil Rights Movement.” It is the 50th anniversary of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream “of a better life for the nation’s 20 million Negroes.”
Like the Women’s Suffrage Movement commemorating a time when a group of Americans was forced to suffer inequality and limited rights on Women’s Equality Day, the 93rd anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment which gave women the right to vote, today was spent remembering another fight for freedom and equality. It was called one of the most inspiring moments in American history as Dr. King shared his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. After millions of black Americans had suffered the most unimaginable horrors due to the color of their skin, Dr. King asked that a debt due the darker race of Americans from America be paid.
Black Americans watched across the country, tears falling from eyes sparkling with pride and familiarity, as they listened to his every eloquently uttered word. First hand accounts of some of those who witnessed the power of Dr. King’s orations came from Dallasites of color on one or more of his visits to Good Street Baptist Church, the only black church courageous enough to invite him to speak during the Civil Rights Era, as WFAA News reported in a commemorative issue on Aug. 28. Many across the nation had heard Dr. King speak, an uncounted number of times over the years of trial and turmoil for Americans of color soon to be called African Americans. On this day in American history, however, the audience was composed of not only blacks, but an impressive number of whites, as well. That unprecedented day on the Mall at the Lincoln Memorial, blacks and whites stood shoulder to shoulder, side by side.
Dr. King delivered the landmark speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. President Obama commemorated the speech from that same spot with a major address of his own, to a crowd expected to be just as large. He will “shape this historic moment,” recalling Dr. King’s speech and purpose for the 1963 “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” President Obama, “aides say … will tackle” that very “topic of jobs for all Americans in his speech, today,” Pitt reported for ABC News.
The president spoke to Dallas’ Tom Joyner, syndicated radio host of The Tom Joyner Morning Show in a radio interview. He told Joyner, “The question is does the ordinary person day to day, can they succeed. And, we have not made as much progress as we need to on that and that is something that I spend all my time thinking about is how do we give opportunity to everybody so that if they work hard they can make it in this country.”
Pitts reported that President Obama recently met with civil rights activists and members of the Obama administration’s cabinet in attempts to realize “not just … the symbolism of the speech, but the substance.” The president’s concern encompasses “the recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the Voting Rights Act to the racial implications of the Trayvon Martin case.”
Those attending today’s event included Oprah Winfrey, Forest Whitaker, and John Lewis — Georgia Democratic congressman who, in 1963, gave his own speech to the attendees at the March on Washington. Rep. John Lewis told Byron Pitts, ABC News chief national correspondent, that America has changed in the 50 years after the March on Washington. Pitts said, “Black unemployment was double digit in 1963. Black unemployment is double digit today. What do you think when you see those economic realities 50 years after this speech about jobs and poverty?” Rep. Lewis said, “We’ve made progress, but we still have a distance to go … America is better. It’s a better country. And, we are a better people. So, when people say nothing has changed, I say come and walk in my shoes.”