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Obama's Place in History; New Era, Same Message; On the Edge of History

Aired January 19, 2009 - 09:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: On the edge of history, America prepares for a change in leadership. A new president as the nation honors the memory of civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr.
Good morning. Welcome, everybody. You're taking a look at some live pictures of the White House and of the Washington Monument.

Lots of excitement here in the nation's capital. Good morning. Welcome. I'm Soledad O'Brien on the Washington Mall.

FROM MLK TO TODAY, I'd like to welcome you to our special coverage on this holiday that honor's the civil rights icon throughout the morning and early afternoon, as well. We're going to take a look at Dr. King's life and his lasting legacy, and maybe the greatest measure of that is as close as tomorrow's dawn.

The nation will witness the inauguration of a new president. He is the first African-American to take that oath. Barack Obama has often cited Martin Luther King Jr. as one of the great influences of his life.

President-elect Obama not alone. According to a CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll, two-thirds of Americans say Martin Luther King Jr. influenced their lives as well, either a great deal or somewhat.

Take a look at the poll there. A third of Americans say he influenced their lives, not very much, or not at all. Not surprisingly, King's influence breaks down largely along racial lines. Among those who felt he had a great deal of influence on them, well, 71 percent were blacks, 18 percent white.

Today may be a holiday, of course, but it is no a day off for lots of people. Many people donating their time to community service in honor of Dr. King's legacy and that includes the president-elect and the future first lady as well and the vice president-elect and his wife also.

After that, they're going to head for a community service day luncheon at Calvin Coolidge High School in Washington, D.C. and that's where we find CNN's Elaine Quijano. She's already there waiting.

Who else are they expecting today, Elaine? Good morning.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Soledad. Well, they're expecting hundreds of volunteers and they're just starting to trickle in now. Certainly a buzz in the air here at Calvin Coolidge High School in suburban Washington as they await this luncheon with the president-elect and vice president-elect and their spouses as well.

Now this is all part of the effort -- not only a call to service that the president-elect is launching, not just for a day, but an ongoing commitment, but also, really, intended to commemorate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to that end, as you mentioned, the president-elect, the vice president-elect will be taking part in their own service projects.

We're still waiting, though, Soledad, to find out exactly what, in fact, those projects will be. They're sort of playing things very close to the vest on that point. But here at Calvin Coolidge High School, certainly a lot of excitement. They already got the sound system going here. And, again, people are just starting to trickle in for this event that starts a few hours from now -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Well, looking forward to that as well. And it's kind of exciting here, too, Elaine, because as you can probably can see behind me, the snow is starting to fall and it's really quite a remarkable thing to see.

Don Lemon is at the nation's capital as well this morning. He is covering a special day of service.

Don, why don't you set the scene for us a little bit? What can we expect today?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: A whole lot of service event...

O'BRIEN: Looks like...

LEMON: ...and seeing the -- can you hear me, Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Yes, I can, Don. I'm sorry. Keep going.

LEMON: OK. OK. A whole lot of service events. The president- elect and also the vice-president and their wives will be attending service events today, although be leaving -- you heard Elaine Quijano, just shortly -- to go to Calvin Coolidge High School here in Washington where some 300 people will put together those projects and those videos for our service men and women, and then also they'll attend that luncheon today.

But we have been talking -- you can see it's starting to snow out here. It's a little bit early -- if you could pane around here and show. A little bit earlier, there were more folks out here until the snow started coming down. Of course, today is a holiday and people are off.

And many people here in Washington are from out of town. They said if they were in their home cities, they would be doing some volunteer projects, but a lot of people feel this is their service to the country, Soledad, by coming here and supporting this inauguration and this new administration, so they say that this is their day of service.

But -- Michelle Obama, the first lady to be and the president- elect also put out a video on their Web site encouraging people across the country and really across the world to get out and volunteer today to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so that's what people are doing in preparation, one day, of course, we know, before this inauguration.

And, Soledad, you and I have been talking and spending a lot of time together here in Washington even getting on the elevator this morning. A different feel here. We were talking to people about asking them what they were doing this day, if they were going to get out and volunteer.

And they said absolutely. A lot of folks are going to be praying and also they said that they were going to live up to the promises and -- for church and for Christianity in the country.

Of course, the Obamas and the Bidens going to church yesterday and we know that has a lot to do with service. That is the mission of anyone who is a believer in the country. So there's a different feel. People feel like this is a softening of the country and today is the time to celebrate and, of course, get back to reality on Wednesday. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: It was Martin Luther King, of course, who used to say that -- I'm paraphrasing, but service is the rent you pay for taking up space on this planet.


O'BRIEN: And it's a nice to that tied on this day which would have been, you know, the time around his 80th birthday.

Thanks, Don. Appreciate it.

We're going to check in with Don Lemon throughout the morning and afternoon.

LEMON: All right.

O'BRIEN: So many people -- as Don really referenced, so many people, especially in the black community, find is almost unbelievable that the nation could have come so far.

We want to introduce you this morning to one of them. A CNN iReporter, his name is David White and David lived in the nation's capital. Take a listen to what he told us.


DAVID WHITE, CNN IREPORTER: We made it. We made it. And that was only because in my lifetime, as a child in the civil rights movement, I had no idea that I would ever get to see this day come, January 20, 2009, where an African-American, a gentleman just like myself, will be inaugurated as president of the United States.

This -- this means hope eternal to me. It means that this nation has crossed a bridge that I hope we never go back across again.



O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody, to our special FROM MLK TO TODAY.

Many people, of course, have been inspired after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. It wasn't called that officially but that's how we know it now.

Well, you may not know he almost didn't get a chance to give that speech. For one thing, the Kennedy administration asked the organizers to cancel the march on Washington. They feared, in fact, that it would derail the civil rights bill.

The organizers ignored the president's plea. They went ahead with the march anyway. But there were others who were even closer to Dr. King who didn't want Dr. King to talk about history. Take a look.


CROWD: I have dream.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That my four children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will one day live in a nation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where they will not be judged by the color of their skin.

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: But by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

O'BRIEN (voice over): Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech at the march on Washington on August 28th, 1963 is one of the most important in human history. But the words "I have a dream" almost didn't make it into the speech.

WYATT LEE WALKER, KING'S CHIEF OF STAFF: The inner circle of that I have a dream portion was (INAUDIBLE) and trite because he used it so many times on other cities.

O'BRIEN: Dr. King had been writing about this dream for decades. His inspiration can be traced back to these books from his library now kept in this vault near Morehouse College.

The night before the march, Dr. King's inner circle wants a new message.

WALKER: I remember very vividly, (INAUDIBLE) Young and I going up and down the steps of the Willard Hotel taking drafts of what we thought should be a new climax.

O'BRIEN: The next day, Dr. King takes this only known copy of his speech called "Normalcy -- Never Again" with him. Nowhere does it mention his dream.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have the pleasure to present to you Dr. Martin Luther King.

O'BRIEN: With the Lincoln Memorial behind him and facing a quarter of a million people, Dr. King delivers his speech.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was standing up into the sides.

KING: Now is the time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And after he went through all the stuff about what we're here today, (INAUDIBLE) and so forth, he paused. And what I did see him do...

KING: I still have a dream.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He turned the text over. He grabbed the podium and he leaned back and looked out.

KING: I have a dream.

WALKER: I was out in the crowd somewhere and when he swung into "I Have a Dream," I said, all, expletive deleted, after all that work that night before up and down the steps and then he went into the "I have a dream" section.

KING: Because I have a dream.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He transformed those marble steps into modern day pulpit.

KING: Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last.


O'BRIEN: It's amazing, Roland Martin, joining me now, to see these pictures of the 250,000 plus people who had gathered...


O'BRIEN: ... right here.

MARTIN: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: I mean what an amazing thing to think -- the time that has passed and what has changed over that time. I love the fact that "I Have a Dream" speech was not called "I Have a Dream."

MARTIN: Right. Well, I think one of the things that has always bothered me is that what we have done with this particular speech -- first and foremost, we have allowed Dr. King to be defined by this speech, awesome speech. Clearly one of the greatest of the 20th century. But he lives five years after this speech. So the -- this is somehow the pinnacle of his whole life, I -- in his whole life, I think is misstating the reality. But the other thing, which I think is going to be a beauty, the fact that when we rebroadcast this speech later this morning, is most of the speech had nothing to do with the "I Have a Dream" part.

He was talking about the economic disparities in America, between the haves and the have not, between African-Americans get a check stamped insufficient funds from United States. And so I -- for the last 10 years, every time I've been on television, on radio, I have said the exact same thing, every King Day, that that should be the focus, because for those of us who understand church, "I Have a Dream" part was a hoot part.

The part that got the audience excited, but the earlier part was the thesis. That's where they would have the scripture and will lay out what -- what the sermon was all about.

O'BRIEN: And the march on Washington was not called "The March on Washington."

MARTIN: It was a march on Washington -- march into Washington for jobs and freedom. So there was a purpose to it. And, again, you cannot leave -- you can't say March on Washington and leave that out, because you -- then you don't understand what the whole point of the march was.

So here we are 2009. What are we dealing with? March dealing with jobs. We're dealing with economic disparities and dealing with haves and have nots, dealing with the difference between class and so his speech is so relevant right now...

O'BRIEN: Which is why, thank you for keying me up so...

MARTIN: No problem.

O'BRIEN: ... I can tease that at noon today. We will be running the entire speech. I'm really excited about that. And truly, without exaggeration, grab your kids and sit them down in front of the TV.

MARTIN: Right.

O'BRIEN: So they can see the speech. 17 minutes long, more or less. It will be a wonderful thing and we're really excited that the King family has given us permission to run the speech in its entirety so please join us at 12:00 noon today out here.

It's starting to snow and that is making it a little magical, I think.

MARTIN: Well, Soledad is excited. Look, I -- might live in Chicago, but I'm from Texas.

O'BRIEN: So you're just cold.

MARTIN: Right. Give me a little heat.

O'BRIEN: Well, I like it, I like it. And we have folks out here who are joining us and we're expecting the mall to fill up as well this morning and through the afternoon. As people come out literally to stake their spot for the inauguration tomorrow but also to celebrate Martin Luther King Day, which is today.

Barack Obama, on the eve of his inauguration on the threshold of history as the nation's first African-American president, President- elect Obama, as you well know, has often cited Martin Luther King Jr. as a major influence in his life. And here are the words of each man and their common mission. Take a listen.


KING: We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT ELECT: When I was thinking about whether to seek the presidency, there were voices that counseled me to wait. Why not stay in Washington for a few more years, they said, to master the game?

But the fact is I've been in Washington long enough to know that that game needs to change. And I am running...


OBAMA: And I am running for president right now because of what Dr. King called the fierce urgency of now.

This moment...


OBAMA: This moment is too important to sit on the sidelines.




OBAMA: A belief that if we could just recognize ourselves and one another, bring everybody together, Democrats, Republicans, independents, Latino, Asian and Native American, black and white, gay and straight, disabled and not, then not only would we restore hope and opportunity in places that yearn for both, but maybe, just maybe, we might perfect our union in the process.


O'BRIEN: Barack Obama speaking yesterday right after the concert that was held right down the way from the -- on the mall here.

Equality through peaceful means. That is what led Dr. King to Memphis, Tennessee back in 1968 and then, ultimately, to his death.

CNN's T.J. Holmes is there this morning at the National Civil Rights Museum. A fantastic museum.

What kind of a program are they planning there for today, T.J.?

T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Well, a big day, as always here, as you know, Soledad, the National Civil Rights Museum, the sight of the death of Dr. King. We've already had -- I mean it opened at 8:00, Soledad. Not too long ago here, local time. Have people lined up. A freezing temperatures here as well.

Families, kids, children, everybody lined up here, still trying to get in and participate. Expecting several performances. Actually expecting 8,000 to 10,000 people to actually visit on this day. A street here in front of us are -- that going to have vendors set up. So really a fair like atmosphere, a festive atmosphere for people to come and to have a family day.

I'll step out and let you see what's over my left shoulder here. And Soledad, we were looking -- my producer and I were looking for words. We were trying to find the words, how do you capture, how am I going to say in this live shot exactly what is happening here today, what it means here today, what it feels like to be here, and we couldn't quite come up with anything.

You're looking over there at the balcony, that -- famous and infamous balcony now where that wreath is, where everybody is familiar with that picture when we all saw that shot of Dr. King who laid there after being shot and being assassinated here in Memphis, Tennessee.

And it's so tough to try to wrap up and really to put into words what it means to be here on this hallowed ground on this day. There was some talk in the local paper that maybe because of the inauguration of Barack Obama tomorrow because of that historic moment that that would really overshadow this day that usually gets so much attention.

But contrary, I do believe -- actually, I think what's happening tomorrow actually highlights this day even more. People will remember, certainly the civil rights movement and all Dr. King was fighting for, but he was here in Memphis, Tennessee when he was killed to support sanitation workers, here to support them and their rights.

He gave that famous speech and I heard you talking just a moment ago about speeches and the "I Have a Dream" speech and how that's highlighted his career even though he made so many other speeches. A major one he made here. "I've been to the mountain top" speech as it's called.

And he talked that day about -- he had been to the mountain top and he had seen the promise land, I might not get there with you, but we, as the people, will get to the promise land.

Many people, Soledad, do believe, that maybe, no, he did not get there with us, but that promise land he spoke of is what we are witnessing now and certainly what we will see tomorrow and literally a matter of hours when this country will have its first black president.

So, yes, Soledad, a day full of excitement here inside the National Museum -- Civil Rights Museum. They have a room dedicated to Barack Obama in there right now with newspapers from all around the country and the world of his being elected and also many local artists have their artwork up.

So really, no doubt, a day of service. This is MLK Day but being highlighted even more, I believe, Soledad, because of what we're going to witness tomorrow.

O'BRIEN: OK. T.J. Holmes for us. And of course, Dr. King, as T.J. points out, was in Memphis really fighting again for economic parity. The sanitation workers strike was really about equal pay and -- that was what -- what eventually brought him to Memphis.

Thanks, T.J.

We're going to continue our coverage on this holiday, our special FROM MLK TO TODAY. And of course, I want to remind everybody, as you take a look at the capital, and I have to say, in the snow, it is just looks -- yes, looks like a post card. It's beautiful.

Look at the mall. That will be filled with maybe a million, two million people -- the "I have a dream" speech, we will air the entire speech live for you at noon today. It's a rarity and I encourage you to grab your kids in front of the TV and have a chance to catch that full speech so you can really hear for yourself the message of Dr. King.

A short break. We're back I just a moment. We'll leave you with some beautiful pictures of Washington, D.C.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody, to our special coverage, FROM MLK TO TODAY. We're right out on the mall here in Washington, D.C. in the snow. It's falling. It's -- really it's cold but it's really -- really nice. Really warm, actually when you consider how many people are starting to come out and join us.

I want to update you on the president-elect's schedule. We've been telling you about some of the work he's going to be doing today for the day of service. And we'll be following that.

But he took kind of a detour from his planned event and something that was not on his schedule was a visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to visit with the wounded troops there. He is -- there's no media coverage of the event so we'll have pictures to show you but it is really how he has started his morning and, again, with the theme a day of service, sort of a fitting tribute there when you go and visit the troops who really have given everything to serve this nation.

Hundreds of thousands of people heading to Washington, D.C. and a whole bunch already here. They want to see the inauguration of the first African-American president and CNN's Brianna Keilar is where it's all going to take place.

So, is it ready, Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, there's always last-minute details, Soledad. But I think it's a good sign that I've been watching some of the workers in charge of those last-minute details taking photos of what's going on up here on the west steps of the capital.

We -- of course, tomorrow, on CNN, we're going to give you a very nice view. Of course, we're expecting two million people here on the mall but if you're not one of them, you're going to get this amazing up-close look at the action here on the west side of the capital.

I want to show you what you're going to see. Of course, if you can imagine that actually Barack Obama will be standing up here on this day behind me. And first, Vice President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in by Justice John Paul Stevens. Then Obama will be sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts, then he's going to give his inaugural address.

And the very cool thing that we're going to be bringing you tomorrow is a -- an interesting shot up above where they will be. This is up on the balustrade of the west side of the capital. Let's go ahead and take that shot. We've got a camera up there looking down the mall. And you can see this -- just imagine this is going to be filled with people. Packing the mall, trying to catch a glimpse and at the very least, enjoying the company of all other people who are here as well to witness this amazing event.

You can see those buses lining the bottom of the screen. This is the scene all over Washington, D.C. as hoards of people coming into town today ahead of tomorrow. And let's go ahead and take a camera shot that we have down on Sixth Street.

This is -- this is Sixth Street on the Mall looking back towards where we are. This is the view that people are going to be seeing. Six blocks down the Mall. You can see that, of course, it's going to be a very small glimpse if they can get it, and not only -- I mean, picture this. This is six blocks down the Mall. People are going to be lining up 23 blocks, maybe even more down the Mall, Soledad.

So, obviously, you can see these Jumbotrons here on the left, we're going to catch a glimpse here, but really it's all about being with other people who are witnessing history, and at least being with them and experiencing it, even if you can't get the very best view. But, of course, here on CNN, if you can't be one of those two million people tomorrow, we are going to give you an amazing view. The view really that a lot of dignitaries and special guests are going to be getting up -- are going to be seeing right here from the west side of the Capital -- Soledad?

O'BRIEN: If you can't be one of those two million people, Brianna, then you get to watch it on TV. Thanks. Brianna Keilar for us. CNN contributor Roland Martin is back with me. We got a little crowd coming out here. You need to put on your hat, sir. It's too cold to not have a hat on. Look at this guy, he's crazy.


MARTIN: I know. Look, wait a minute, I've been getting e-mails from all across the country like why do you have that hat on? I'm like, it's cold.

O'BRIEN: It is chilly.


MARTIN: Yes, mom and dad said put your hat on when you go outside.


O'BRIEN: And you know what, and the snow -- can you guys see the snow, the snow flurry here. But it's great.

MARTIN: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: I mea, it's a really nice feeling to be out on the Mall. And I know as the day moves forward, we'll have more people come out.

MARTIN: Right.

O'BRIEN: It's incredible coincidence, timing, whatever you want to call it that it's Martin Luther King Day today and tomorrow, the first African-American president will be sworn in.

MARTIN: Oh, absolutely. And it also when you think about that, continue the timeline we talk about, I mean, Obama giving the Democratic speech at the Democratic convention on the 45th anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, and so that was amazing. Then of course, we will have this year, 100th anniversary of NAACP next month, which was launched as a result of race riot in Springfield, Illinois.

Here is a guy who his political career built in Springfield, Illinois. This is the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. And so, you know, some folks say it is divine order, if you will, those kind of things.


O'BRIEN: (INAUDIBLE) during the primary when it was actually being very hard-fought battle, back in the general election, too. I was like, and it was God at the end of the day. But it's true, I mean, the coincidences are really breath-taking. And of course, that Barack Obama continually looks back to both Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln, who was really literally over his shoulder yesterday at the concert was kind of a remarkable thing. MARTIN: You know, it's interesting. This morning, I also do a commentary (INAUDIBLE) a morning show. And President-elect Obama called in. And we had the opportunity to chat with him about that.

First of all, he said, you know, he would have danced more at the concert yesterday, but his daughters said, "Dad, you're embarrassing." You know, your kids always say, you know, their parents embarrassing them.


O'BRIEN: Oh, you're embarrassing me.

MARTIN: So you love that. But your point about service early as well. One of the points that he made was that -- and we heard through the primary and the general election, the problem with it, you had his opposition who is saying, you know, he should talk more about the military. He said serving this country is not just about putting on a military uniform. There are literally millions of people who are in soup lines, who are clothing people, who are dedicating their time and their energy.

And so I think it is important to have a president who says to commit yourself to service goes beyond just the military. Now, those who do are commended. That is the ultimate sacrifice, as far as I'm concerned, but we need to have more people who care about their fellow man, who choose to be involved in what is taking place.

And I keep saying, Soledad, that you cannot have a changed nation unless you have a changed state. You can't have a changed state unless you have a changed city. A changed city, a changed neighborhood, a changed neighborhood, a changed block, a changed block, a changed house, which means the person inside the house, they have to change.

O'BRIEN: Everyone has to do their part has been a consistent message.

MARTIN: Got to do their part.

O'BRIEN: Not just with Barack Obama, but also Martin Luther King Jr. whose anniversary we are celebrating today out here.

MARTIN: And also we're just talking, remember, when Dr. King was killed he was planning the poor people's campaign. And they went ahead with it and they only had these shacks, if you will, that were built here on the mall on Washington. And it rained. It was muddy. It is disintegrated because he was the glue that had all that together. They were still in mourning. But again, that was the one who died dealing with economics.

O'BRIEN: Economics.

MARTIN: Economics.

O'BRIEN: Opportunity in parody was really his message and his issue. As you guys can probably see, it's snowing. Little flurries back here which brings us right to Reynolds Wolf.

Hey, Reynolds, I got a weather flash for you. It's snowing here on the Mall.


MARTIN: That's right.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it's cold. And it's going to get colder. I think that's the take-way there. All right, Reynolds, thanks.

MARTIN: (INAUDIBLE), you put in on your suitcase and move on.

O'BRIEN: Yes, and let's do that. People all over the country are excited about the inauguration, and we wanted to share with you an iReporter from Atlanta who shows us a necklace that she plans to wear on the big day. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heart Obama, because I do. Just like the other millions that are going to D.C. this weekend.




OBAMA: Despite the enormity of the task that lies ahead, I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure. That it will prevail, that the dream of our founders will live on in our time.


O'BRIEN: That's Barack Obama. He was speaking yesterday after the concert. That was held not very far from where we are right now. Barack Obama's march into history. Of course, tomorrow, the new chapter unfolds with his presidential inauguration. With a little perspective on that, we want to bring in a historian.

Allan Lichtman is an author and a professor of history at American University, and he joins us this morning from our Washington bureau. I might note, inside the Washington bureau.

Nice to see you, Allan, of course, as always.


O'BRIEN: Give me a little perspective on how is this different? Outside of African-American president being brought into office, how is this one different?

LICHTMAN: Let's first make it different by tying it into what we've been talking about with Martin Luther King. Martin Luther King said in that "I Have a Dream" speech, that until the negro is free, America will not be free. And if the civil rights struggle was not simply a struggle for African-American freedom, but was a struggle for the freedom of all Americans. And, in a sense, the inauguration of the first African-American president is the liberation for all Americans. It's the realization of the dream for every one of us.

Now, it's so much easier to imagine a woman president, a Jewish president, a Latino president. And just as John F. Kennedy's election as a Catholic in 1960 defused the issue of Catholicism to the point where we took it for granted that John Kerry was a Catholic, so, too, the election of Barack Obama and its liberating force as he has said will make us simply take it for granted that we have an African- American president. That's how extraordinary this moment is.

O'BRIEN: My six-year-old daughter, Allan, said to me not long ago, so he is the first black president? I said, yes. She said, no, really, he's the first black president? Right. You know, sort of being able to imagine something as a younger generation is sort of a nice thing to think about. The ceremony itself is deep in history. We know about Lincoln's bible. The story about it, though, is quite remarkable because Lincoln forgot his bible when he came in to be inaugurated, didn't he?

LICHTMAN: That's right. And you know, they had to find it for him to be inaugurated. But, you know, just as Lincoln introduced an entirely new political era in America, we forget. His Republican Party was only 6 years old. The idea of a political party, a major party dedicated to antislavery and freedom was something brand new. Now we stand on the cusp of a new political era with the election of Barack Obama.

You know, we have been living in basically a conservative era since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. And now we see the turning of a new political cycle. That era is coming to an end and Barack Obama, like Abraham Lincoln before him or Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan stands on the cusp of an entirely new political era in America.

And he has a chance to help advance the broader Martin Luther King dream as Roland pointed out. Martin Luther King was, of course, about integration and civil rights, but he was also about economic justice as Roland addressed. But he also had a broad international vision.

He was a deep critic of the Vietnam War. He was a critic of military force as a means of promoting our interests around the world. He believed we should unite ourselves with democratic and humanitarian forces all over the world.

And here is Barack Obama now with a chance in the midst of crises at home and crises abroad, to realize that broader Martin Luther King vision of promoting economic justice and equality at home and redirecting our foreign policy towards human rights, real democracy, cooperation, and restoring our standing throughout the world. It's a noble and extraordinary vision that he has a chance to realize right now, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Allan Lichtman for us. Nice to see you, Allan. Thanks for talking with us, giving a little historical perspective this morning. Appreciate it.

Among the crowds that are gathered in Washington, our CNN iReporters, Debbie Armstrong (ph), sent a picture to us, comments from a woman she feels is really living in a moment of history. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've lived through so many changes in my lifetime. I'm 73 years old and this is the opportunity of my lifetime.




OBAMA: Welcome to Washington. And welcome to this celebration of American renewal.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back. You can hear the crowd behind us. As we start getting people coming out to be with us here. That would be Roland Martin directing the band. People are so excited to be out here.

And what's been really interesting to see is -- you may sit down, Mr. Band Director, is the full range. I mean, really, a crowd of faces of all different types from different countries have been out here. Really international crowd -- black, white, Asian. It's quite a remarkable thing. And, of course, strides of change coming full circle from Reverend King to President-elect Obama, change returns. The steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Though they are born in different eras, both men found unique ways, really, to spread the same message. CNN's Errol Barnett is live for us in Atlanta -- Errol?

ERROL BARNETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Soledad. As you were saying, you know, both men rallied for change at the grassroots level. They inspired millions of young Americans to believe in their dreams and become more engaged in the political process. For Dr. King his activism brought people together at a time of very intense division. And for President-elect Obama, new media allowed him to connect people all over the country. In fact, Obama's online community, perhaps is one of the most exciting and significant elections in American history.


BARNETT (voice-over): Sam Cooke said change is going to come was an anthem with the 1960 civil rights movement. Decades later, it still holds true. This is a tale of two times, with one message of change.

(on camera): In 1948, MLK would be ordained into the ministry here at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia. In the decades that followed, he would utilize student groups and a network of southern churches to spark the civil rights movement.

Dr. King strides in the 20th century paved the way for the change Barack Obama has been calling for here in the 21st century. The president-elect uses student groups, as well, but in a new era is using a new medium.

(voice-over): Not since the 1960s have the youth of America been so energized politically. Mr. Obama's presidential campaign groups online swelled into the hundreds of thousands. He has a Facebook and MySpace page, a YouTube channel, and had a Twitter account.

There are personal images on His staff even created a special transition Website after he won the election. allows anyone to submit their own stories, voice opinions, even apply for a job. He says he'll continue this online interaction as president, and even plans to hire a chief technology officer. The first of its kind cabinet position.

(on camera): Mr. Obama's online strategy really mobilized the people, like students here at Morehouse College. Martin Luther King actually graduated from this school back in 1948. I'm joined now by some current students, some of whom were part of Barack Obama's online movement. So, guys, how did he reach out to you?

NAJEEE JOHNSON, OBAMA CAMPAIGN INTERN: I started doing voter registration here on campus. And I was getting my forms from somebody with the campaign. And he asked me if I wanted to be an intern, and I said yes.

And the really clever thing that the Obama campaign did was to know that the youth were using these social networking sites and that to model his own Website after those popular institutions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On his Website, you had -- you can have your own Obama profile, you could create groups, create your own events, house parties.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The e-mails are so personal, too. It was from Barack Obama. It made you feel as though you were a part of the campaign.

BARNETT: Did any of you actually receive the VP announcement via text message?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: yes. I was up late at night waiting so I could put the announcement on our personal Website here for the newspaper.

BARNETT: Well, Obama still has your number. Do you think that's a useful tool? Should he continue to text you information? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Definitely, definitely. I would say young people, one of the things we love to do is text. And he understands that.

BARNETT: To be here at the Morehouse College, where Martin Luther King graduated and to speak about America's first black president, do any of you feel like the dream has been fulfilled?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you hear stories from our grandparents and from our parents, it's kind of like they have their identity. And they have something that they fought for, they've lost loved ones for, you know. And no one died because of the campaign. And the different struggles were completely different. However, we're starting to develop our identity. And this generation is starting to kind of develop its face. And Barack Obama spearheaded that.

BARNETT: Dr. Martin Luther King proved to be one of the most influential leaders. And he's speeches still ring true today.

DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: We will be able to transform the jangling discourse of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

OBAMA: Yes, we can heal this nation. Yes, we can seize our future.

BARNETT: Martin Luther King had a dream, Barack Obama wants you to believe in it. A tale of two times with one message of change.


BARNETT: And so how is Barack Obama using the Web right now? We have his Website, pulled up. This past weekend, he sent out an e-mail to his supporters, a video message announcing a new initiative he has called -- it's called Organizing for America.

And basically, he says he wants to use this network of people all around the country to, quote, "Continue fighting for change in your community." So he's putting the power back in the hands of the people to allow them to create change. How we will do that, he says, he will describe in the weeks to come.

And Soledad, you talk about how this event really transcends generations. One of the students I spoke at Morehouse College, Mark Anthony, was the president of students for Obama. He had a ticket to the inauguration where everyone wants to be right now. And because he was able to campaign for Obama across the country, he gave that ticket to his mother. He said that so that she could have her piece of history -- Soledad?

O'BRIEN: That's a nice story. Errol Barnett for us. It's been nice, too, to see out here the large crowds of folks who are starting to come out on the Mall. And as you talked about generational, we see all ages. Some little people bundled up and some older little people bundled up. So many people excited about the inauguration of Barack Obama. And many of them right out here with us today. We want to share with you, though, some reports from our iReporters, Franco Carapellotti and Zach Hawrot. They're from Ohio. They sent us video of one of their friends. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really funny that this day is just finally here. Everyone's been talking about this for so long, and what Barack Obama can do. And we finally have our fresh start and a chance for him to put all of his plans into action.



O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody, to our special broadcast FROM MLK TO TODAY. Today is the national day of service. I should mention Roland Martin joining us, as well.

MARTIN: Hey, Soledad, how you doing?

O'BRIEN: I'm really well. A little chilly, but really well. Today is the National Day of Service.


O'BRIEN: And that is something that Barack Obama as president- elect has been encouraging people to go out and serve. And what better opportunity to introduce you all to a bunch of guys who are serving. I want to introduce starting from right from behind Roland, that's Cody Haney (ph), Cody Pester (ph), Steven Dickinson (ph), Chris Smith (ph), Derek Jackson (ph), and we have Sergeant Clinton Eshelman with us. And I'm going to interview you if I may.

First of all, what's your role here during the inauguration ceremony?

SGT. CLINTON ESHELMAN, U.S. ARMY: Basically, we're here to provide a security presence. You know, make sure everything flows smoothly. And you know, just make sure that, you know, if something does go wrong, we're here to provide the protection for the people that's necessary.

O'BRIEN: You're with the National Guard out of Iowa.

ESHELMAN: Yes, the Iowa National Guard. Actually units are the 168 and the 133rd. So, it's actually the first time in Iowa's history that the National Guard has served during a presidential inauguration. So that's pretty awesome for us to be able to do that.

MARTIN: It should be the case, considering it was Iowa that actually kicked off Obama's campaign.

O'BRIEN: I think there's probably a pretty good reason for that.

You know, you served in Iraq, is that correct? ESHELMAN: Yes, served over there for 18 months, actually. So pretty long service, but well worth my time and enjoyed my stay, actually. So a lot of fun.

O'BRIEN: Well, I know you're here working. All of you guys are working. But I'm curious to know when you're on the Mall, in a historic occasion on Martin Luther King's birth, a day we officially celebrate it, what do you think about? Or is it hey, my job is security and that's what I focus on.

ESHELMAN: Well, you know, when the time comes to do the job, we've got to stick with that, you know, and do our duties. But, you know, during our off time, you know, of course, we're going to, you know, pay attention to security and that sort of thing. But, you know, also got to enjoy ourselves at the same time. So, you know, try to make it as fun as possible.

O'BRIEN: Did you think a lot about service. I know today is about serving the nation. Is that something that was really important to you when you thought about joining the military?

ESHELMAN: You know, I think most people join, you know, for different reasons. But as time goes along they learn that there really is a bigger purpose and, you know, a service to your country out there, you know, that you're really there for so.

O'BRIEN: Well, it's nice to have you, guys. Thank you to Iowa National Guard. And you're right. Kick off Barack Obama's campaign, so I'm sure I'll pass along from his campaign. A big thank you