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Obamas Roll Up Their Sleeves for National Day of Service; Rosa Parks Lawyer Describes Beginning of King-Era Civil Rights Movement

Aired January 19, 2009 - 10:00   ET


SGT. CLINTON ESHELMAN, IOWA NATIONAL GUARD: But as time goes along they learn that there really is a bigger purpose and a service to your country out there that you're really there for.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's nice to have you guys. Thank you to the Iowa National Guard. You're right, kick off Barack Obama's campaign. I'll pass along from his campaign a big thank you for that.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They did a great service. They're blocking the wind.

O'BRIEN: You may stay here for the rest of the show. It's much warmer ever since they arrived. We appreciate it, gentlemen. Thank you very much. We want to bring you back, everybody, to our special coverage. We are talking about "From MLK to Today" and you're taking a look at the capitol, look how beautiful it is, the nation's capitol. It's full of excitement. Feel it in the air, we're 24 hours away from a new president.

He says he's planning a new direction for America. He'll probably get a little bit of a honeymoon, one imagines, during the day and then start Wednesday. It's back to work and trying to figure out in the middle of lots of crises what he has to do. Beautiful shot of the White House there. We've got it all covered for you today and also tomorrow, where we literally if you don't have a chance to get to Washington, DC, we have the best seats in the house if you're watching CNN.

Today, of course, is Martin Luther King day. It's a national holiday. And we're looking at the civil rights icon who suffered, truly suffered and took upon for himself and the people who march with him, the taunts of a nation sometimes and kept on walking and kept on preaching and kept on praying for justice. We're going to take you to where it all started, the cradle of the civil rights movement. Good morning, welcome back, everybody, I'm Soledad O'Brien, it is Monday, January 19th, which means it is Martin Luther King Day. And I'm joined by members of the Iowa National Guard who are out here doing security. From "MLK to Today," we welcome you back to our special coverage, a holiday that honors the civil rights icon.

Throughout the morning and throughout the early afternoon too, we're going to take a look at Dr. King's life and his legacy that continues to live on today and maybe the greatest measure of that will all unfold tomorrow. The nation will witness the inauguration of a new president, the first African-American to take the oath of office. Barack Obama's often, as you know cited Martin Luther King Jr. as one of the great influences of his life. Americans are asked to observe the holiday today, Martin Luther King holiday by working on a volunteer service project and president-elect Obama is heeding that call too. This hour, he's en route to a service day project same is true for his wife, the future first lady Michelle Obama taking part in a different volunteer project. And heading another direction, also for a volunteer project, Vice President-Elect Joe Biden, as well. So several hundred others will be gathering at Calvin Coolidge High School in Washington in just a little bit. CNN's Elaine Quijano is there. It's going to take place, Elaine. What are you looking forward to?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, these volunteers, Soledad, have been here now just about an hour or so. They are putting together projects for the troops. Before we get to that Soledad, a little bit of breaking news. White House press secretary Dana Perino making an announcement a short time ago having to do with inauguration day and what will take place. The White House is announcing that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been chosen as the quote unquote designated successor, the person who in case of catastrophe or terrorist attacks will be the designated successor on January 20th, inauguration day. Again, that designation made by the outgoing Bush administration. It will be Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

A little bit about what's happening here in the room. I just want to show you some of the activity behind me here because these volunteers are certainly very focused and very enthusiastic about the projects that they're working on. Basically what this is, 300 or so people have gathered from various volunteer groups to work on items for the troops. They're writing letters. They're making cards. They're working on sending out blankets to the troops. And you can see there's a wide variety of people, but a wide age group, as well. We see young children; we see older adults, all of them heeding the call to service. And this is something, of course, that we know President-Elect Obama is calling for, not just for a single day, but for a longer term commitment, as well. And as you noted, this is also an event that is also meant to commemorate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. So these volunteers here very excited, very focused on what they're doing. We hope to talk to some of them a little bit later today, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Elaine Quijano, that's a wonderful thing to have, an opportunity to chat with people who feel so personally connected to the story. Elaine Quijano for us, thanks, Elaine. Of course we're going to continue to check in with you throughout the day as this day of service is the focus for the celebration today, remembering Martin Luther King Jr. at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta as well. This of course is the church where he was ordained at the age of 19 and where he served as co-pastor with his father for the last years of his wife. It's also where Dr. King's funeral was held. And right now the annual services to honor him are just getting underway.

I want to check in on those final preparations for tomorrow's inauguration. Kate Bolduan is on the Washington. What's happening there now? You're not too far from where I am. KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, not too far at all. Let me try to give you a little perspective. The countdown continues, the preparations continue Soledad. You know this place very well. To show you some perspective, the Washington monument right there, that's a mile and a half from Capitol Hill, from the podium where Barack Obama will be sworn in. You can see all of these preparations continue. Sound equipment, facilities, medical tents, security towers in order to make it this experience tomorrow as comfortable, as safe as possible for the potential of two million people coming, and there you see it. The capitol, the jumbotrons, they're doing tests today on those, as well, all trying to get ready for the big day. You can see all of the space that I'm in right now. It's not going to be nearly as much space as you can expect for the swearing in tomorrow.

To offer you some perspective on that, we found some tourists who are here for the inauguration who came out here to do a little prep work themselves to try to scope out a good spot. Listen here.


BOLDUAN: Let's talk some serious business. I saw you with your map.


BOLDUAN: What are you seeing? Where looks like a good location so far? This mall is about two miles long. You've got a lot of space to look at.

MARIA MCRAE, FAYETTEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA: I'm just going to try to get as close as possible up there. I'm not even going to try to see the parade because I figure that's going to be impossible. But just camp out here, bring a little something to sit on and find me a spot near the edge in case I get paranoid with the crowd and just see what I can see. I figure just being out here with the people and that mood is going to be fabulous.


BOLDUAN: Now, that's Maria McRae. She's here from Fayetteville, North Carolina. I think she shares a sentiment, Soledad, that many people share. Even if they don't have a great spot if they're down here, just being amongst the crowd, amongst the people sharing in this historic moment is fabulous enough as she kept saying to me. The entire National Mall for the first time will be open. As I said, it runs about two miles in order to accommodate the potential of the record-breaking crowds. Of course, we have no clue how many people will show up, but we expect it to be much busier than the space that I'm standing in today.

O'BRIEN: Yes, looks kind of empty by you, but I've got to tell you, it's starting to get a little filled up where we are. So I'm looking forward to that and I think it'll be great (INAUDIBLE) people show up on this mall. That will be really certainly a fabulous shot to see. Thanks Kate, appreciate it.

BOLDUAN: What a sight.

O'BRIEN: I want to talk a little bit about tomorrow. Even beyond tomorrow, specifically the inauguration, President-Elect Barack Obama as the nation's first black president. Can his presidency bridge racial lines and political divisions? Two guests, two parties, Joe Hicks is a Republican strategist, a community activist, Joining him as well is Baratunde Thurston. He's a liberal comedian and blogger. Nice to have you both. Joe, why don't we start with you, if I can. Give me a sense of how you feel. We talk to so many people who were Barack Obama's supporters who are so thrilled about today and tomorrow. How are you feeling from where you are?

JOE HICKS, REP:UBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I'm excited about the potential for his presidency and his leadership. I've often said I'm the loyal opposition here. I want Barack Obama to do well; I want him to succeed. Unlike a lot of folks back in 2000 and certainly in 2004 on the other side of the aisle, if you will, who did -- who refused to see Bush as the president, I accept him as my president and I want to see him do extremely well. This country needs strong leadership.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you, Joe, for what advice you would give him before we turn to our liberal blogger for advice, as well. If you had to pick a couple of things that you could tick off if you had an audience with the president-elect, what would you tell them?

HICKS: I would whisper in his ear and say Barack, my brother, continue to be the good moderate that you seem to be so far, don't listen to those on the far left who will encourage you to do things that I think would not be good for the country. But again, so far, you know, I will be critical of him, but of critical of things that he does and policies that I disagree with. So far, I think he's been pretty straight on in terms of many things he's done. And I would certainly encourage him to make sure he governs for the entire nation and not just listen to those that I think would direct him to, shall I say farther left kind of ideological positions they'd like to see him take.

O'BRIEN: Let's turn to Baratunde. You've written an amazing piece on the daily beast. And I'm curious to know what advice, but in the article you give advice to the president-elect as he comes in and in terms of what his family should expect, I guess. What advice do you give him?

BARATUNDE THURSTON, COMEDIAN, BLOGGER: I think we have to recognize where we are in history. I went to a part Saturday night called the end of an error, not an era, but an error. And we're at the beginning of a new era. And people are as joyous about Obama as they are relieved about Bush. What I would advise him not to do is put up a big mission accomplished banner saying racism is over. It's not quite that simple, but change has. There's a little bit more work left, but not to do that. We're on the mall, the last time I was here was the million man march. And we've come a long way since then. We have a long way to go. It's a momentous moment to sit here amongst all these people who are going to be here tomorrow. It's beautiful

O'BRIEN: It's been a really nice thing to feel sort of the energy in Washington, DC. You attended Sidwell Friends, which we now know is where Malia and Sasha Obama will be going to school. What was that experience like? A lot of these private schools as you well know not filled with young African-American students.

THURSTON: And not filled with the president's daughters either. Sidwell is used to educating folks like them. What I said about advice to them was, they're expected to represent the United States of America, often times in these elite private schools, you're expected to represent the United States for black America. And being the only black kid in the class can also raise a lot of challenges. So it was advice to the parents about what they can expect. Dynamics of rich black kids and poor black kids, being asked to represent your whole race. As far as we've come, that still does happen. Students there from my time and after still talk about it.

O'BRIEN: Joe, back to you. People have talked about the honeymoon period. And it's true. It's so easy, especially I think, because of the timing with Martin Luther King holiday for people to wax poetic about the connections between MLK and Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama and on and on and on. Is there a honeymoon period that ends? Is it Wednesday morning 12:01 a.m. that everybody just gets back to work? What do you think?

HICKS: No, I think there will be a honeymoon period where people will allow him to settle himself in and to begin to put certain policies on the table and people will be watching to see what he does, where he goes. I think there definitely will be a honeymoon period. I think that certainly all people now are very hopeful for this president. We're in some very difficult times here. So there will be a period, but you can certainly expect within sometime within the first 90 days or so as is clear where he may be going, the criticism will begin both from the left and the right, I might add. The left already is carping about some of the stuff they would have like to see him do, who he is asking to give, you know, speeches at his inauguration tomorrow. But there will be, I think, a honeymoon period and I think that's as expected. And has been for almost every president, perhaps with the exception of George Bush. Right away the criticisms started in and the Bush derangement syndrome very quickly took over.

O'BRIEN: Joe, you raise an interesting point. I'll ask you to comment on that. Which is he talked a little bit about the criticism from the left and the right. And for a guy who built a coalition, you sort of been owing a lot of people. And how do you navigate that? That can be a very tricky path to carve. Because you're not the black president and you're not the president of environmentalists and you're not the president of the people who want to end the war. You're the president of everybody. How do you do that?

THURSTON: Well, I think he started it during the campaign. I think it's nice that we're talking on MLK's day, because one of the things he did was build coalitions across people. Obama's biggest hallmark and one of the reasons so many people were inspired was because they were involved. Even when they disagreed with him, he listened. And that's something that the past eight years hasn't seen is a lot of listening at the White House. He's going to pursue policies that people disagree with. He's going to do things that disappoint people, but as long as he stays open and transparent about it, I think he'll have a lot more credibility with the people and that's what we need right now.

O'BRIEN: Baratunde, thank you. Joe as well, thank you very much for chatting with us this morning on this Martin Luther King holiday. I appreciate it. The nation's capitol is filling up, you can tell from behind me. And also if you take a look at some of the pictures from the inaugural concert here on the mall. It was amazing. There were so many people out here. Today, of course, America's honoring the memory of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. And at noon today, we're going to have a special presentation. We're going to show you Dr. King's entire speech. It's known as the I have a dream speech, but it was not called that, it was called normalcy never again. It's something though, you want to grab your kids and plunk them in front of the TV so they can have a chance to watch a very rare airing of this incredible speech.

Martin Luther King emphasized the needs for blacks and whites to come together to bring about racial equality. And Barack Obama sometimes carries that same theme with him as he prepares to take office. Listen.


MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: We cannot walk alone, the preacher cried. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. America, we cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done, not with so many children to educate and so many veterans to care for, not with an economy to fix and cities to rebuild and farms to save. Not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend. America, we cannot turn back.



DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Scenes from the celebration yesterday here on the national mall at that big celebration. The Lincoln memorial, U-2 among those on hand as well as a whole bunch of other people. And lots of these people who are standing behind me were in the crowd yesterday. How are you guys doing today? Yes, you're great. Maybe you can understand then, where are you from? They are from all over the world and they are celebrating here in Washington, DC and preparing tomorrow for the inauguration of Barack Obama, our president-elect. So we will get to that. Of course, tomorrow, I'm Don Lemon here in Washington on the national mall. Our Tony Harris is in the CNN NEWSROOM in Atlanta. Tony, this is going on here in Washington, but of course, there is some other news to report.

TONY HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Don, I love seeing so many young people behind you there in the crowd. Here are just a few of the other stories we're following for you this morning in the CNN NEWSROOM. Just days after the spectacular crash into New York's Hudson River, the U.S. Airways jet liner is out of the water and under the microscope. Investigators want to look more closely at the cockpit, the plane's interior and the right engine that is still attached. One of the flight data recorders captured thumping sounds and right after that, the plane had a sudden loss of engine power. It is believed that thumping noise was geese hitting the plane. Now check out the front of this medical helicopter. A flock of geese slammed into the chopper last night near Little Rock forcing it to make an emergency landing. Everyone on board made it out safely.

Israel is pulling its troops out of Gaza and hopes to have them all out by tomorrow night. Palestinian officials in Gaza say more than 1,200 Palestinians were killed during the 22 days of violence. Israel reports s 13 Israelis killed.

In the U.S. gas prices have inched up again. The latest increase is the sixth in a row. It bumped up the national average less than half cent a gallon for regular unleaded. Those are the headlines from the CNN center in Atlanta. Let's get you back to Don in Washington. Don?

LEMON: Tony Harris, we appreciate that. Again, we're here on the national mall and you can see all of the people behind me. Our Roland Martin also joining us here today on CNN for our special coverage here. Look at that beautiful shot of the mall. And we are right in the middle of it all. Thousands and thousands of people are expected to show up here and we have seen them showing up really since we got here earlier in the week. And -- It's change. You think so?

MARTIN: I got here Friday. It was amazing. From Friday night to Saturday night, a lot more folks who came in yesterday and I can guarantee the streets will be packed tonight.

LEMON: Roland, we got here Friday morning, and every single person on our flight, just about every single person except for the air marshal, seriously, they sat there on every flight going in and out of Washington, DC in the area. But every single person on the flight was coming to the inauguration.

MARTIN: Yes, you see all of these groups, fraternities and sororities and you have church groups and all kind of folks who are coming here. When you're first, you're first. There's nothing like saying I was at the inauguration of the first African-American president. And people have been so emotionally invested...


MARTIN: ... in this election. And you look at the people who watch our coverage. These people are reciting stuff and watching the rebroadcast.

LEMON: I want to talk to you about that, renewed interest and renewed hope in the country. And you know, all of this renewed hope for America is also spilling over in the nation's borders and across the oceans. There is excitement over the new president all around the world, as well. And we want to join now our chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour. She is on Capitoll Hill. Christiane, give us the scene. What are you seeing there?

CHRISIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, you saw for yourself, all those people from around the world who are right behind you who have come here and they have come to see what's going to happen here tomorrow, which is just behind me on this specially built platform where Barack Obama will be sworn in as the first black American president in history. And it's not just a transformative moment for the United States, but for the world, as well, not just because of what his election and inauguration signals as in terms of American history, but because they also hope for a new page to be turned in American relations with the rest of the world.

Because during the election campaign, many, many polls showed that in Europe and many other parts of the world, Barack Obama was the favorite candidate and now since his election, a few polls of global attitudes have shown the significant majorities in many parts of the world believe that U.S. foreign policy will change for the better, in other words, they're looking for a more positive U.S. foreign policy and they believe that that will be implemented. And just the stories that we've been reporting even around this inauguration. You've just reported about the Israel war on Gaza, the stories coming out of Afghanistan every day, out of Iraq, all over the place showed the very important issues that will be on Obama's desk on day one on Wednesday.

And we're told by transition officials, at least CNN, is told that some of his first acts will be to meet with his military staff, to meet with defense secretary about Iraq, about Afghanistan, also to sign some executive orders, for instance, closing down Guantanamo Bay prison, which has been such a blot on the moral conscious of the United States and its moral standing. Many people are hoping that it will be closed down quickly, even though the president-elect has said it may not be as quick as people hope. But people really do want that to end and signify a new chapter. So, so many challenges, so much opportunity and so much hope and good will from the rest of the world today, Dn.

LEMON: And Christiane, he's going to have to get on day one on Wednesday, his full day in office. I was reading something from the "Financial Times" the other day and other reports saying that Barack Obama around the world really is even surpasses politics. He is a cultural icon. And I'm wondering how his popularity is going to translate on the world stage.

AMANPOUR: Well, you can imagine, it will do in terms of policy and foreign policy. You can imagine also that around the world particularly in Europe, there are significant black majorities, Asian majorities, others who have made up the European populations over the last decade but are still waiting for their own Obama. Whether it be in France where about 10 percent of the population is immigrant, but there's nowhere near the kind of minority representatives in political life. In Germany, the same, in Italy, as well, in Europe and in London, as well. People are saying that it might take a couple of decades before they have their first either Indian or Pakistani or black British prime minister. So many, many people there hoping for their own empowerment movement with this election. And really, as I say, wondering where is their Obama?

LEMON: All right, chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour. We appreciate that Christiane. Stay warm over there, will you?

Well, he would not be denied. He said before thousands, a drum major for justice vowing to push this nation toward racial equality. We will take you back to Montgomery, Alabama, back to a time of segregation and justice denied.

Also CNN I-reporters are in the middle of it all, middle of all these crowds, helping us bring you all the excitement right here in Washington. Check out this photo. It was sent by Jay Bryant who was at the Lincoln Memorial yesterday for the celebration concert.



OBAMA: What give messes me hope is what I see when I look out across this moment. From these monuments are chiseled, those unlikely stories that affirm our unyielding faith, a faith that anything is possible in America.


O'BRIEN: Affirm what is possible in America. Another historic moment in a short speech by the President-Elect Barack Obama. He did that speech right after the historic concert right outside the Lincoln Memorial. And he talked about his hope, his renewed hope in America. We're having folks out here today who are joining us in somewhat chilly temperatures.

MARTIN: Oh, Yes. They're excited, right?

O'BRIEN: They are. They are excited. And they come from all over the country, really around the globe, as well, all wanting to be part of what's going to be a remarkable day because today people are really focused on Martin Luther King day and remembering and honoring him and then looking forward to the inauguration tomorrow. And I've got to tell you, it's chilly and these folks are out here. You need to put a hat on. Yes, you, put your hat on, it's cold.

We want to remind folks that you're going to be watching our special coverage "From MLK to Today" all this morning and through the afternoon and I want to remind you that at 12:00 noon on CNN, we'll have a special presentation of the entire "I have a dream" speech. That speech runs about 17 minutes. You may not know that Martin Luther King was given five minutes to make his speech and his advisers went back to the organizers and said that's not going to happen. He can't do it in five minutes.

MARTIN: Folks have to understand, when they have these major marches, it's not like you got three or four speakers.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Day of.

MARTIN: You've got 50, 60 speakers. I mean, I covered the Million Man March in '95, the Millions More Movement in 2005. I mean, you had just tons of speakers. Even John Lewis.

O'BRIEN: Yes. We're going to talk to him a little bit later this morning.


MARTIN: So, a lot of folks, and also a lot of egos involved, too...

O'BRIEN: You think?

MARTIN: ... because you've got, who speaks first, who speaks last.

O'BRIEN: We have Fred Gray joining us in just a little bit after the break. He was Rosa Parks's attorney. So, we'll have a remarkable conversation with him. We ask you to stay with us through the break this morning on our special report, FROM MLK TO TODAY. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to our special coverage, MLK TO TODAY. We're celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and what may be some of his dream fulfilled. Tomorrow's inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation's first black president.

Nice to have you, everybody. We're going to continue to have coverage all day long, and then at 12 noon, we will have the -- in its entirety, the "I Have a Dream" speech. It was not called that when it was delivered. But it is known as that today.

You can see some beautiful pictures here in Washington, D.C., where it is a positively balmy 30-some odd degrees. A shot of the Capitol and the White House. If Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had lived, January 15th would have marked his 80th birthday. But he needed not even half those years, 39 years, to help change America from a deeply divided and segregated society to a nation that really started to come to terms with equal rights for all of its citizens. His journey of victory through violence began in earnest in a church in Montgomery, Alabama. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (reading): After one has discovered what he is called for, he should set out to do it with all of the power that he has in his system. Do it as if God Almighty ordained you at this particular moment in history to do it.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Those were the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., just turned 25, in his first sermon in 1954 in Montgomery, Alabama.

(on camera): This is the actual sermon written on four pages back and front of lined notebook paper in Dr. King's own handwriting. It's preserved here at the library for Morehouse College, the start of what is literally a treasure of Dr. King's thinking at the critical moments in civil rights history.

(voice-over): For King, the pivotal moment came the next year, when Rosa Parks, on the left, was arrested on A montgomery bus. This is her lawyer, Fred Gray, with a bus seating chart.

FRED GRAY, CIVIL RIGHTS LAWYER: Mrs. Parks, I believe, was sitting, if I'm not mistaken, she was sitting here.

O'BRIEN: The driver asked blacks in that row to give you were their seats to a white man.

GRAY: Everybody got up, but Ms. Parks. And she didn't. And was arrested.

O'BRIEN: King was asked to be a spokesman for a boycott that began on the day Rosa Parks went on trial. These words come from this outline for the protest, words that would define the civil rights movement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (reading): This is a movement of passive resistance, emphasis on non-violence in a struggle for justice.

O'BRIEN: One night early in 1956, Dr. King's phone rang.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (reading): An angry voice said, listen, nigger, we've taken all we want from you. Before next week, you'll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery. I got out of bed and began to walk the floor. Finally, I went to the kitchen and heated a pot of coffee. I was ready to give up.

O'BRIEN: But King said he felt God's presence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (reading): I was ready to face anything.

O'BRIEN: Three nights later, Dr. King's house was bombed. Blacks gathered, bristling with anger.

GRAY: He simply went out, talked to the crowd, and told them to go home, and they went.

O'BRIEN: The blacks of Montgomery stayed off the buses and walked or shared rides for more than a year. In New York that spring, Dr. King spoke of the power of non-violent protest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (reading): There is a new Negro in the South with a new sense of dignity and destiny. The story of Montgomery is the story of 50,000 Negroes who are tired of injustice and oppression, and who are willing to substitute tired feet for tired souls and walk and walk until the walls of injustice are crushed by the battering rams of historical necessity. This is the new Negro. O'BRIEN: Fred Gray carried a lawsuit all the way to the Supreme Court, and in the winter of 1956, won. The next morning, Dr. King was among the first blacks to get back on a bus. He's sitting here behind fellow minister Ralph David Abernathy. Beside Abernathy, reporter Inez Baskin (ph).


O'BRIEN: She says she could see in Dr. King's face a man looking ahead to what was yet to come.

BASKIN (ph): To look at his expression, it wasn't over. But we have come this far.


O'BRIEN: The violence of Birmingham caused the Kennedy administration to take a long hard look at national policies and really forced the Oval Office to finally publicly denounce racism. Remembering back when and anticipating what might be. I'm joined now by some men who recall the days of Martin Luther King, Jr., and now Barack Obama's days. CNN contributor Roland Martin with us all day today and civil rights attorney Fred Gray. You saw him a moment ago in the piece.

You were Rosa Parks's attorney. How old were you, sir, when you were serving as her attorney?

GRAY; I was 24 years old, had been out of law school just a little more than a year, at 23.

O'BRIEN: At 24, did you have any idea the national stage upon which you were about to embark?

GRAY: I did not have any idea upon the national stage, but it was the reason I became a lawyer. While a student at Alabama State College for Negroes in Montgomery, the bus situation was horrible. And this was in 1950. I made a commitment that I was going to finish college, go to law school -- couldn't attend the University of Alabama because of my color -- become a lawyer, come back to Alabama, pass the bar exam, and destroy everything segregated I could find.

That was my commitment. And representing Mrs. Parks and Dr. King and the others was simply a part of carrying it out.

MARTIN: Fred, what was amazing to me is that a handful of people who gathered in a basement of a church in Montgomery created what is now seen as international movement. What do you say to people today who say, I'm powerless, I don't have any control over my destiny?

GRAY: Well, I think you really have to go back a little before the people who met in the basement of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church on that Saturday after her arrest, because the problems in Montgomery were far deeper than that on the bus. For example, Joanne Rodnington (ph ), who was a teacher at Alabama State, and the two of us who really sat down and planned the details for the -- what was going to happen in the church and later on, but we had a serious problem on buses.

Mrs. Rodnington (ph) in 1948 was asked to get up and give her seat, not get off of a bus, and sit further in the back that was almost empty. We had had people who had been killed, at least one person on the bus. They took our money in the front, we'd go in the back, he'd drive off and leave us. So the community in Montgomery over a period of time was fed up with what was going on on the buses, and they were just waiting on something to happen.

O'BRIEN: Many people had the impression that Rosa Parks was the first. She would not give her seat up. She was not the first.

GRAY: She was not only not the first, but she was not the first civil rights case I handled. I started practicing law in September of '54, and just six months later on February the 2nd, 1955, nine months before Rosa Parks, Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old African-American girl who used the bus system as her form of transportation, was arrested under similar circumstances.

But there's a tremendous difference between Claudette and Mrs. Parks. Claudette had no idea what was going to happen, other than she had paid her fare, she was sitting in the seat she had sat in before, she was coming home from school and said it was wrong for her to have to get up and give her seat to a white man.

Rosa Parks, on the other hand, was secretary of the branch, she was a youth director, she was a personal friend of mine. I'd had lunch with her every day for a year. We had lunch on the day she was arrested. So she knew what to do in the event something happened.

So, young people need to know that the real movement and the person who started it all really was Claudette Colvin, and there were other people. And the same people who later came to Mrs. Parks' rescue, Joanne Rodnington (ph), E.D. Nixon (ph), Fred Gray, came to Claudette's rescue. And Claudette was, in fact, a litigant in the case of Browder vs. Gayle that integrated the buses.

Now, let me get back to your question.

MARTIN: I want to deal with that Claudette, 15 years old.

GRAY: Yes.

MARTIN: Here you are, 24 years old. Dr. King, 25 years old. I think people have the impression that somehow they were 40, 50, and 60. You had young people who were on the front lines of this movement.

O'BRIEN: The marchers, too.

MARTIN: Absolutely. Bring it present day. If you --

GRAY: And actually, Mrs. Parks was only about 35.

MARTIN: So you're speaking to today's generation. What are you saying to the people who say, the baton hasn't been passed to us?

GRAY: Well, I say that young people were involved in it from the very beginning with Claudette Colvin. And I'm going to give a little plug for her book. She's going to have a book that's going to be coming out very soon. I have nothing to do with it other than the fact that I've encouraged here to do it and am glad to know it'll be out.

But young people have played a major role in the civil rights movement. It was young people at A&T in North Carolina who started the sit-ins that resulted in the passage of the civil rights of a public accomodation act.

O'BRIEN: Young people filled the jails.

MARTIN: Also (INAUDIBLE) College and -- yes.

GRAY: And then before the Selma to Montgomery march, there was SNCC and CORE and students and John Lewis.

O'BRIEN: Let me interrupt you there to say, then, for the young people who are here -- we've had so many, I mean, so many people are bringing their kids out here -- do they have power today?

GRAY: Young people have as much power today as they had then. They have more power, because we have been able to do away with the laws on the books. You see, when I started, the law said you can't do it because it's unlawful. We have gotten those laws off.

So, young people have a tremendous opportunity, and with the election of the current president, who will be president almost by this time tomorrow, if there's anything that our young people ought to know is that they have a tremendous opportunity. But they can't get there unless they have an education. My mother told us -- and my father died when I was 2. She was a domestic worker, and she raised -- I'm the youngest, so five of us. She told us we could be anything we wanted to be.

And this was a long time ago. We did three things. One, held Christ first in our lives. Two, stay in school and get a good education. And three, stay out of trouble. Those were three good things I taught to my children and I hope they're teaching it to theirs.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Fred Gray, so great to see you, sir. Rosa Parks's attorney joining us on a remarkable and historic moment and morning. We appreciate your time and thank you so much.

GRAY: Thank you. Come to see us in Tuskegee.

O'BRIEN: It's a deal. It's absolutely a deal.

Excitement in the air as you can see as the folks surround us. Hi, everybody. Staying warm?

(CROWD CHEERING) Barack Obama in the house too. Take a look at this iReport. That's also excitement there. In Washington, D.C., day of service, and he has arrived, as you can tell from the cheers gathered in hope of catching the president-elect. We're going to update you on his schedule, the day of service today, and continue our special coverage.

I want to show you first, though, a report from our iReporter Anthony Williams. He submitted video and says it was just amazing to breathe in the energy around Barack Obama when he came in on Saturday.


O'BRIEN: It's been four decades since Martin Luther King delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech. But President-elect Obama seems like living proof that the reverend's dream is still alive and resinating around America. We want to share with you some pictures -- I think we have some live pictures of the president-elect.

Remember, it is a day of service, and as part of that day of service, not only the president-elect, Obama, but also Michelle Obama and the vice president-elect are al focusing, are all focusing on service in this nation. There you have, it looks like some people. There's actually literally thousands of different projects people can be contributing to.

This one here is an event where Michelle Obama is spending some time. The vice presidential-elect and also the president-elect and the first lady to be are all in different locations. They kind of fanned out so they can spread their participation, and just volunteer projects. The whole idea behind it, Roland, of course is to send the message, not only did Dr. King's value service so much, but also the whole idea of serving your nation. There are many ways to do it.

We've got some pictures of the president-elect. There he is, Barack Obama coming into his day of service, as well. And, of course, security very tight. That goes without saying. But he will be contributing, as well, some of the programs involved feeding the homeless, teen pregnancy, some of the programs as you can see involve just helping with people who are more impoverished than others.

He has shown up at the Sasha Bruce House. It's the headquarters of a non-profit in D.C., and it was founded back in 1974. It's a counseling program for teenagers. And it's the only emergency shelter for homeless teenagers in Washington, D.C. I mean, think about that. There is one in Washington, D.C. that's an emergency shelter. So it's right on Capitol Hill, and that's where he's spending his time this morning.

MARTIN: An important point to make also is that they are driving this message nationally. So, in addition to people having inaugural balls in cities across the country, they're also saying, look, you can participate in this whole event today no matter what city you're in. So there are a lot of people out there. Whether it's Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Miami, New Orleans, who are doing this very same thing out there right now as well. O'BRIEN: You know, it's a real struggle when you take a look at homeless teens in this country, because the need is actually quite great. And one of the issues is, even in a remarkable facility like this one --

MARTIN: Martin Luther King III is there.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I see him in the background there. They can hold 15 teenagers, which is wonderful, but definitely not enough in a city of this size. Let's listen in a little bit to the president-elect -- that's Martin Luther King III, who's right behind the president-elect.

DEBORAH SHORE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SASHA BRUCE HOUSE: In addition, we have a lot of other programs.


SHORE: A couple who are here, one of them is called Youthbuilt --

OBAMA: I know Youthbuilt. I know Debra Stone (ph), who helped start it.

SHORE: Dorothy Stone?

OBAMA: Dorothy Stone (ph), rather.

SHORE: I'm Deborah Shore.

OBAMA: You're Deborah, that's why I -- too many D's.

SHORE: OK, all right.

O'BRIEN: Flanked by many, many cameras, getting a quick tour of the Sasha Bruce House, which is emergency shelter for homeless teens. That's President-elect Barack Obama as he continues his tour. Really, you know, it's not so much about him doing the service, but as you point out, Roland, it's about underscoring the need for service in this nation. And service can be defined by many, many things. They're -- got several projects. One of those, as you could see, painting the dorms where the young people live.

MARTIN: One of the things that he has said that he is going to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to maximum advantage. And so sure, bringing attention to this story.

O'BRIEN: And clearly 100 cameras.

MARTIN: Absolutely. And so, he's made it clear they're going to be visiting Washington, D.C., schools here in the White House, driving home the importance of education, as well. Urban schools, as well.

And so again, this is not somebody who is going to pretty much stay in the White House. He wants to be out in the public talking to people, driving the message home. And again, he talks about Ronald Reagan a lot. He talks about Lincoln, talks about Dr. King. They were all effective communicators of using the media to drive home their message to get people to pay attention.

O'BRIENT: We'll expect to see that from the moment and even before he is inaugurated tomorrow.

MARTIN: We saw it Friday. He was in Ohio talking about the stimulus package.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely. So one of the things we've had an opportunity to do with more and more folks joining us out here -- hi, there, guys, nice to see you -- has been to get a sense of the excitement on the Mall.

MARTIN: And they've been here a while. Look, we got here, they were waiting for us.

O'BRIEN: OK. OK. I'm going to do a quick poll. Shh. Wait, I've got to ask a question. Ready? We're going to do a quick poll.

If you are from the Northeast, I want to hear from you.


O'BRIEN: OK, who are my Southerners?


O'BRIEN: Who's rockin' from the West Coast? And how about the mid-Atlantic states?


O'BRIEN: A handful.

MARTIN: Anybody from Texas?


MARTIN: All right, then, my Texas people. I always got to have my Texas people.

O'BRIEN: And two people from Texas for Roland. It's been a remarkable thing, I think. All right, shh. Thank you. Shh. OK, I can't --

MARTIN: Be quiet.


O'BRIEN: It has been a really fun experience and a remarkable experience to come out here, and it almost sounds cliche, but the energy is palpable. I mean, we are still a day away from President- elect Obama putting his hand on that Lincoln Bible. But still, people are really incredibly excited. I mean, out here (INAUDIBLE) there are no events. Nothing is happening here...

MARTIN: Nothing. O'BRIEN: ... except for our show.

MARTIN: I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings, but this is not about members of Congress, it's not about members of the DNC. This is about people.

O'BRIEN: It is. And that's exactly the message that Barack Obama is trying to give. You can see the projects they've been doing at the Sasha Bruce House, painting and renovating and refurbishing the dorms where some of the young people will stay. It's an emergency shelter.

They also house some of the young people. So they really can only take in about 15 people. They've got a number, a couple dozen today working on these projects. But it's true. Realistically speaking, 15 young people who are homeless in a city the size of Washington, D.C., it's not enough. It's just a drop in the bucket. And as you pointed out --

MARTIN: Imagine other cities. Imagine what's happening in Los Angeles, in New York, in Miami and other cities like that where you still have the same issue. And so, the point here is, how are you effectively using your resources. Whether you actually want to serve, you've got an opportunity.

O'BRIEN: It's going to be a complicated balancing act, though. Because while you're pushing for service and while you're pushing for more opportunity, at the same time, we have an economy in crisis.

MARTIN: Many jobs.

O'BRIEN: We don't have people who can throw money at a problem.

MARTIN: Right.

O'BRIEN: I mean, many of these organizations that are non- profits are paid for by fundraisers, by people dipping into their own pockets to underwrite them. The economy being what it is, you've actually seen that decline significantly.

MARTIN: Well, first of all, I mean, you nailed it, and so what happens also is that, in this kind of economy, their needs are the first ones to go. And so, I think you're trying to remind folks of that, as well, of that we are all in this thing together.

O'BRIEN: And as you point out, really remind us as well that it's not about the balls. It's not about the gowns and the glitterati. It is really at the end of the day about the work like this. How exciting for the folks here who, to a large degree, if you work at a non-profit on do volunteer work, you can toil in obscurity for a long time, but have a chance to meet the president-elect on the day before he takes office. That is a really remarkable thing.

MARTIN: He's there with no tie on, open collar. So, he sort of has his work look going.

O'BRIEN: He's taking his jacket off, which means he's about to start painting.

MARTIN: Sleeves rolled up. I will say this (INAUDIBLE), I'm not painting anything. I'm sorry.

O'BRIEN: Well, you're also not going to be president tomorrow, Roland. I hate to tell you.

MARTIN: You've got that right, for that painting stuff.

O'BRIEN: Again, think of the picture. We're looking at the Sasha Bruce House, and this is a non-profit that helps young people, teenagers who are homeless. But think of this picture as it goes out not just across the nation, but also worldwide. Of a president himself, painting and getting his hands dirty as he, you know, puts in service to the nation in an organization that serves about, you know, 15 young people, not a giant number, but doing his part.

So, I mean, obviously, the pictures will speak louder than words. On the righthand of your screen, you can see the excitement there because Michelle Obama has arrived at her service project. Obviously the security is incredibly tight. But also the excitement for the folks who are knocking each other over to get a shot of the woman who will be first lady tomorrow and the first African-American first lady of this nation.

How exciting. And again, she has talked a lot, even in the campaigning, about how important service was. She has a connection to military families, so you talk about service, and the ultimate service, to the nation. But both of them are really underscoring a message.

That was a message and a theme of Dr. Martin Luther King. We're going to leave you with these pictures. We've got to take a short break. On the other side of the break, we continue our special coverage, MLK TO TODAY, as we report on this historic day, the day before the swearing-in of the first African-American president. Stay with us.