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From MLK To Today

Aired January 19, 2009 - 13:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: From MLK to Today, 46 years after racial barriers began to crack in Birmingham, the nation awaits a ground-breaking moment in history. So is Dr. King's dream finally realized? Are we all finally one? You'll be surprised by the findings of a CNN poll.
And inauguration fever sweeps Sundance. The independent film festival is happy to share the spotlight with the ultimate reality show, right here in Washington, D.C.

Welcome, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien. You're watching CNN's live coverage of Martin Luther King Jr.'s national observance, and the build-up, as well, to the inauguration day. Barack Obama is going to be sworn in as the 44th president 23 hours from right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!


O'BRIEN: It's a day of service, a day of reflection, a day of anticipation, too. We've got it covered from every angle.

CNN's Elaine Quijano and Don Lemon are with me in D.C. Roland Martin, as well, joining me right in the middle of the Mall. T.J. Holmes is at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, and of course, you know that as the site of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated back in 1968.

So we begin this afternoon with Elaine at Coolidge Senior High School where the president-elect is hard at work shaking hands. He promised to shake everybody's hand. It's all part of national day of service, Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And the volunteers here have been working here all morning on projects for U.S. troops.

But right now, as we told you last hour, not a whole lot of work being done, because all eyes really are transfixed on the next first couple. They have been making their way around the room since arriving here about 20 minutes or so ago, shaking hands, talking to the many volunteers, about 300 or so volunteers who have gathered here.

What they are doing, the volunteers that is, is writing letters. They are making cards. They are putting together blankets for wounded troops.

The president-elect himself, we should note, actually visited some wounded troops at Walter Reed earlier today privately and then went on to an emergency shelter for homeless teenagers.

But in some brief remarks that the president-elect made upon arriving, he talked about the need to not only be a dreamer but a doer and really trying to exhort people to answer this national call to service.

What we heard the president-elect say is that this is something he is interested in, not just for a commitment for a single day, but something that will develop over a lifetime that will be a continued commitment to serving their communities.

And I can tell you that it is a very diverse group of people: young and old, as well. A lot of children saying that they're very excited to be here. And certainly, they were not expecting the president-elect and Mrs. Obama to walk in. They'd been told a short time before the first -- incoming first couple walked in that, in fact, they would be getting a special guest.

Now as we see, the president-elect starting to make his way out of the room, some cheers there from the volunteers. But certainly, talking to the crowd here, an inspiring moment for them, an opportunity for them to feel energized, they say, and really answer the national call to service.

So we continue to watch here as the president-elect starts to make his way on the other side of the room. Again, you can just see from the reactions of the people around him, for them, a very exciting moment for them indeed -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: It's really fun, and I have to tell you, Elaine, when we hear that shout come up from the crowd, where clearly he -- he's gone to another table, and everyone stands up to get their picture taken. It's really nice to hear. Elaine Quijano for us. Thanks, Elaine. Appreciate it.

And noon tomorrow, Eastern Time, Barack Obama is going to become the 44th president of the United States. And of course, with that, he'll change the face of Washington, D.C., on lots of levels.

More than two million people are expected to come here to watch the inauguration. Obama mania is growing even today. Don Lemon is working the crowds for us. Hey, Don.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Soledad. Yes, you're right. Obama mania. And you now what we said? It's going to be at least 1.7 -- it could be at least 1.7 million people. There's the Obama mania that you were talking about. You know, I think it's just warmed up, and you know, it's kind of an overcast day, but it's got a little bit of sun. I think there might be more than that, if we get good weather here. What do you think? More than 1.7 million people?




LEMON: I've been talking to these people here, one lady from the Bahamas, as far as the Bahamas. There are people here from Africa.


LEMON: Houston, Texas, all over.

And we heard Elaine Quijano talking about the children who were excited to see Barack Obama at one of the service meetings that he was having there. This is Jackson Page (ph). Jackson, you're from Baltimore?


LEMON: You're very happy to be here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm very happy.

LEMON: You're very happy to be here. His parents are back here.

Why did you bring him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, this is history. You know, having -- having our children be part of this is absolutely amazing. It's a day of service, and our service is to bring them here and to participate in this amazing event.

LEMON: No reservations about coming, the crowd, security, the weather? Anything like that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we've taken some good precautions. We're ready. We've got a little communication system. We've got all sorts of food. We're ready. We're ready. We were here yesterday and we -- on the Lincoln Memorial. It's amazing. But it's about them, you know. It's about the future.

LEMON: That's your son. as well?


LEMON: Say hi to America.


LEMON: I want to talk to one of the guys here. You're Army reserve, right, from Maryland?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger that (ph).

LEMON: Lieutenant Conlyn (ph).


LEMON: You guys are -- they're here with security, but I'm not going to ask them anything official. What do you -- what do you think about this day of service and people honoring other people, the men and women who work for the country, but also going out and volunteering and helping people?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a great day. This is a great opportunity for the Army National Guard to show what we can do. We're here in part with a 7,000-personnel security force, assisting local police and EMS personnel, and we're just here to make sure everything will go safe so everybody could enjoy this day in history.

LEMON: Yes. So they're doing a service, as well. You guys do a great job. So, listen, guys. Say -- I know everybody is raising their hand. They want to say hello. Are you glad to be here?


LEMON: That's the sentiment from all over. So say hi to America as they all jump in here and get them on television. We're not afraid of these crowds. We're actually happy to be here, and we're happy to interact with the people who watch CNN here in the U.S. and also overseas as well, Soledad.

This is really a time of celebration for the country, as well as today, Dr. Martin Luther King Day. It is a time of reflection, as well. But we know that, come Wednesday, it's going to be a day for Barack Obama to get down to business, and we have to go back to the work of the country. Of course, taking care of the economy, and taking care of wars overseas and all of the responsibilities that the president has to deal with.

But now we're celebrating and we're preparing for tomorrow, for the inauguration of the first African-American president of the United States (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely. And as Barack Obama and others focus on that day of service, really bringing a serious tone, I think, in a lot of ways. Roland Martin is joining me out here to a day that is a celebration, but also reminding us what Dr. King really had his focus on, as well, in service.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN ANALYST: So many people on this particular holiday all across the country are get focused on the barbecues and having a day off and going to play golf, but again, you always remember the purpose of the particular day. And I think that's what's most important. And that is what Dr. King was about. All about sacrifice. This man sacrificed his life. And look, when he died, almost penniless, because of his opposition to the Vietnam War. But he was all about giving: giving, giving, giving, not about receiving.

O'BRIEN: On this -- on this pretty amazing week, when the past and the future are literally intersecting, we have a question to ask, and it is this. Have we really turned the corner as a nation? And there's a new CNN poll, has some eye opening answers to some interesting questions.

And also we'll bring you a private salute to the troops. Barack Obama took an unannounced trip to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. And we'll tell you what happened there. That's all straight ahead. Stay with us.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!


O'BRIEN: We certainly hope that you were watching the last hour when CNN aired the entire "I Have a Dream" speech from Dr. King's March on Washington for jobs that happened in the summer of 1963.

Almost a half century later, on the eve of Barack Obama's inauguration as U.S. president, the question remains: is the dream fulfilled? As always, it kind of depends on who you ask, but you might be surprised what we discovered in a brand-new CNN poll.

We want to introduce CNN's Bill Schneider. He joins us with a look at that.

This is a really interesting poll, because I think any poll that examines racial differences.


O'BRIEN: And you're talking, of course, about an African- American president, so race matters in these question. The question of dream fulfilled. There have been some who have said, "This is it. The dream is fulfilled. Day is done. All good." What does your poll find?

SCHNEIDER: Well, you know, Martin Luther King, we heard him earlier say, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a country where they will be judged by the color of their skin -- not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Has that dream been fulfilled?

Well, with the election of Barack Obama, two-thirds of African- Americans believe it has. That is double the number -- double -- who felt that way in April. But you know what? An increasing number of whites also feel it's been fulfilled.

O'BRIEN: Interesting. Many people, of course, don't look just to today or even to tomorrow, the inauguration day. But down the road and what the election of an African-American president will mean for race relations as a whole in this country, which have been, I think difficult is a pretty good word to use.


O'BRIEN: Maybe an understatement.

SCHNEIDER: Indeed. Well, we saw a burst of enthusiasm about race relations in America immediately after Obama was elected in November. Half of African-Americans and nearly a third of whites believe Obama's nomination would usher in a new era of better race relations.

Now, that initial enthusiasm has cooled a bit, but still, most blacks and whites foresee at least some improvement in race relations as a result of Obama's election.

O'BRIEN: One of the nice things out here is that you get stories, really personal stories from everybody here. There's a gentleman right back there in the white beard who was here on the march on Washington...

SCHNEIDER: A long time ago.

O'BRIEN: ... a long time ago. What -- what is the personal meaning? What's the difference between African-Americans and whites in this country when it comes to the election of Barack Obama?

SCHNEIDER: Well, nearly 90 percent of African-Americans believe that, as you said, this is a dream come true. And more than 60 percent of Americans expect their own lives to get -- African- Americans rather, more than 60 percent their own lives to get better with Mr. Obama in the White House. And nearly half of whites agree that things will get better for African-Americans. And solid majorities of both races say they are thrilled or happy to see Obama inaugurated.

You know, most blacks and whites went to bed on election night saying, "I never thought I'd live to see the day." That's what this nation is celebrating today on the King holiday. We have lived to see the day.

O'BRIEN: The progress. The progress for the nation. Not just one guy's progress...


O'BRIEN: ... but, really, the progress potential in a nation.

Bill Schneider, always nice to see you. Thanks.

SCHNEIDER: Good to be here. O'BRIEN: I'm loving the hat, by the way.

SCHNEIDER: It's warm.

O'BRIEN: Can I have it? Thanks, Bill.

A day before he becomes commander in chief, Barack Obama's thoughts are on the troops. Early this morning, the president-elect paid an unscheduled visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. No cameras were there with him, but we understand that he visited 14 troops who have been injured in Iraq or in Afghanistan.

Got a short break. We're back in just a moment. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: If you think of the civil rights movement as a drama, Birmingham, Alabama, would have to be one of its most unforgettable stages. The dogs and the hoses, the cursing, the bombing. It was a place where Dr. King thought he might meet his end.

We're going to take a look at the journey of the man and his dream, from his hometown to the black churches across the south and finally where it all ended in Memphis, Tennessee.

We're back in just a moment. Stay with CNN. Special coverage, "From MLK to Today," from the mall in Washington. We're back in a moment.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!


O'BRIEN: Juanita Abernathy was in Washington, D.C., nearly 46 years ago for Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech. It was many years and truly many tribulations ago. Now she's back to witness how far that dream has come.

Mrs. Abernathy, of course, is the widow of the Reverend Ralph David Abernathy. He was Dr. King's close friend and adviser, also the co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Mrs. Abernathy, nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us.


PHILLIPS: So many people have been asked, did you ever think this day would come? But there are some who I really would really love to know the answer to that question.

You, who spent so much time right on the front line and right next to your husband every step of the way. He, who truly brought Martin Luther King in, and leveraged all of his power to make that difference and bring the movement national. Did you ever think you'd see -- see this day?

ABERNATHY: No, I did not. I knew it would come. However, I didn't think I would be alive to see it. But thank God he has spared me to see the realization of a lot of our work and our efforts during the civil rights movement.

And today, to celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., who was our leader in that movement. And I'm sure thousands of people around the world are excited, because they never thought that they would live to see this day.

So surely I was on the March in Washington. I was seated right to Dr. King's left on the second row. Mahalia Jackson was on the first. Coretta sat on the aisle, and I was next to her, in 1963 when we were here for the march on Washington.

You know they gave us credit for 250,000, but we knew it was double that. If they said 250,000, it was 500,000. So that was a glorious time, and this is a glorious time.

O'BRIEN: We have another picture, Mrs. Abernathy, of you and Mrs. King, this time, I believe, from the late '50s outside the jail in Selma.

ABERNATHY: Birmingham.

O'BRIEN: Sometimes I think the contributions of -- is that correct?

ABERNATHY: It was Birmingham.

O'BRIEN: Sometimes I think -- sometimes I think the contributions of women in the civil rights movement...


O'BRIEN: ... have been overlooked a little bit. You know, kind of -- you hear a lot about the men, and everybody can list the stars of the movement who were men.


O'BRIEN: Describe for me and Roland Martin, who's right at my side here, ma'am, the contribution of the women during the movement.

ABERNATHY: Well, you see, during that period, it was the time when women were -- were more or less seen and not heard. It was a time when women were not in the forefront. We supported our husbands.

However, you know we were giving our ideas and our thoughts, and our organizational skills were going into play. Because we were sitting in the meetings when they would hold their private meetings.

My house was a come one, come all. And the meetings, the strategy sessions were held around my table. And Dr. King and my husband and SCLC people would assemble and talk for hours and hours and hours, planning strategy for the encounters that we were going to take and how we would continue in those sessions, in those activities. So women played an integral part.

And in Montgomery, there were women on the board of the Montgomery Improvement Association, which was the organization responsible for the Montgomery bus boycott. So women have always been involved. We just have -- we were not in the leadership roles, so to speak. But had not it been for women, we wouldn't have had a movement.

MARTIN: You've got Ella Baker, of course, one of the co-founders of (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

ABERNATHY: Absolutely.

MARTIN: ... with Fannie Lou Hamer.

ABERNATHY: That's right.

MARTIN: And I'll tell you what, Roger Wilkins (ph) tells a great story, Soledad, of Dorothy Hite. She was never in the pictures...

O'BRIEN: Right.

MARTIN: ... of the big six. And when he was there, he moved her right next to the president. That's when she finally got in one of the photos.

O'BRIEN: Right, right. It's true.

ABERNATHY: That's right.

O'BRIEN: ... in ways, kind of just not in all the photos that people remember.

You know, I've got to ask you, Mrs. Abernathy, your home was bombed. You sacrificed so much. It must break your heart that your husband is not alive to see this day. You know...


O'BRIEN: ... when you think of people who should be here, you know. He's one of them.

ABERNATHY: That's right. And I -- I miss him so much. And oh, my gosh. I just wish that he would -- he were here. I wish Dr. King was here. Hosea Williams, and, you know, so many people who suffered and sacrificed. And they're gone on.

And Coretta's gone. So many of the wives are gone. Hosea's wife is gone, and that's Hosea on the picture there with Jesse, Martin and Raff (ph) on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. And they are gone.

But all of us knew that this day would come. Because we were in the streets, not for ourselves, but for future generations. And Barack Obama certainly represents that future generation. He's standing on our shoulders, and we're proud, extremely proud, to see this day.

O'BRIEN: I'm glad you said that. You said it's about the future generations, in terms of what you were fighting for. Do you believe that -- that folks today are willing to have that level of sacrifice that your husband had and others had for future generations?

ABERNATHY: I think so. I really think so. I just think it's unfortunate that many of our young people are not aware of the fact that there is still a great need.

You see, we are in the process of becoming. We have not arrived. So consequently, once they are sensitized to the fact that we must continue the struggle, I don't think it will be difficult to get people -- young people engaged.

My husband was 29, and Dr. King was 26 when they started the movement. So what are the average 26- and 29-year-olds doing today? And I think they would -- if they could be led into a cause -- young people today are not even aware of the sacrifices that were made back in the '50s and '60s, and even before. Because we don't -- we don't teach our history as we should to our own coming generation.

O'BRIEN: Yes, we -- we have tried to do our part today, Mrs. Abernathy, running the full speech of Dr. King and reminding people of those, like yourself, who are truly the heroes of the civil rights movement on such an important day.

Thank you for talking with us today, ma'am. We certainly appreciate your time.

ABERNATHY: And thank you.

O'BRIEN: Of all the dues paid during the civil rights movement, some of the costliest, really, came in Birmingham, Alabama. The city was well known for segregation and for steel (ph), too. And if there was a front line in the movement, then truly, Birmingham was it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: I'm sorry, Mr. White, God has placed a responsibility on us. O'BRIEN (voice-over): In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Birmingham, Alabama, one of the most racially-divided cities in America. Andrew Young came with him.

ANDREW YOUNG, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Going to Birmingham was, to him, the possibility of an imminent death.

O'BRIEN: Dr. King went anyway and was arrested for marching without a permit. In solitary confinement, he read a newspaper article in which eight white clergymen called the demonstrations, quote, "unwise and untimely."

WYATT TEE WALKER, MLK'S FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF: He was very agitated. He says, "We've got to write a response. We've got to write a response."

O'BRIEN: Clarence Jones was Dr. King's attorney.

CLARENCE JONES, DR. KING'S ATTORNEY: The only paper he had until I got there was the newspaper.

O'BRIEN: Under his shirt, Jones smuggled in paper. Dr. King's writings became the famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters.

YOUNG: He loved language. You can see where he crossed out words until he got exactly the right rhythm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you have to concoct an answer for a 5- year-old old son, who is asking, "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?" then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.

O'BRIEN: When the efforts to desegregate Birmingham stalled, the movement tried a new strategy. Dr. Dorothy Cotton, Dr. King's director of education helped recruit teenagers.

DOROTHY COTTON, SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE: And the aim was really to fill the jails, if we could.

O'BRIEN: Police responded with dogs and firehoses.

Carolyn McKinstry (ph), just 14 years old, is seen here, caught in the melee.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That hose hurt. We were pinned against the building. We couldn't move.

O'BRIEN: These images of brutality awakened the American conscience. In May of 1963, businessmen agreed to integrate their stores.

But the victory was short-lived. Sunday morning, September 15, 1963, the unimaginable. A bomb explodes at the 16th Street Baptist Church.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You came to church, you had friends who, by the afternoon, were dead.

O'BRIEN: The lives of four little girls stopped at 10:22 a.m.

YOUNG: Most of those days, he was in a deep depression.

O'BRIEN: Before eulogizing the little girls, he jotted down his deepest thoughts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These precious children of God say to each of us, we must substitute courage for caution.

WALKER (?): I observed tears and crying as he was speaking.


O'BRIEN: Amazing, amazing video. In fact, we just saw her pinned against a wall by a water hose in that archive footage. Carolyn McKinstry (ph) is going to join us live to share her thoughts about Barack Obama's coming inauguration on this Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. That's straight ahead. We're back in a moment. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream was one of racial and social and economic equality. And some say the election of Barack Obama is at least a step forward in the realization of King's dream. Others say that it cannot be measured by the success of one person.

We're going to discuss that with my guest, Carolyn McKinstry. You saw her in that videotape. She almost lost her life because of the color of her skin in a racist church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, four decades ago.

It's nice to see you again, Carolyn. Thanks for talking with us. When we spoke not so long ago, you really underscored for me your frustration, frankly, with young people. Because as a young person, you were heavily involved. You were 14 years old when the Birmingham -- the church was bombed in Birmingham.


O'BRIEN: Does that change your mind about our conversation, about the activity of youth today, when you see out on the Mall here and everywhere else, young people enthused about an historic step for this nation?

MCKINSTRY: It has changed my mind tremendously. It has restored my faith. I've been so moved by the involvement of young people in this campaign in 2008. And I have to tell you, I'm so excited, and I just feel restored. O'BRIEN: Tell us a little bit about the involvement of young people. Because I think sometimes the history of what happened here in the fight for civil rights is a history a lot of people don't know. We have shots, and we saw them a moment ago, of you being hit by that water hose. Was it terrifying? Was it incredibly scary?

MCKINSTRY: It was a very painful experience. For those that have never been hit by a water hose, that water emits with pressure of something like 100 pounds of water per minute. And it wasn't one of the things that they told us about. I had been to a mass meeting the day before, and they had told us that the policemen might have dogs, the policemen might have billy clubs, they might spit on you. They did try to prepare us.

I think we were very excited that someone wanted us to be involved and that someone thought that we could make a difference, that we could actually be part of what was going on. And we didn't really know the kind of things to be afraid of. So we were willing. We were excited. And our classmates were there. And it was just an exciting time. But it turned into something a little more frightening when we actually went out to march, and they met us with the little white tanks and the water hoses.

MARTIN: Carolyn, what I find to be amazing is that everything that was done then was all strategized. And James Bevel and others actually trained you and others. They taught the students. They rallied them. And when Dr. King gave the signal, unleash the children, you guys had gone through all these sessions and rallies to prepare for this very moment.

MCKINSTRY: Right. And we were told, if you cannot be nonviolent -- this is a nonviolent protest. We were told that if we could not adhere to the guidelines of the movement that we might need to find our place somewhere else, that we might need to just drop out of that movement. But we were very -- we were --

O'BRIEN: Did it torture -- I'm sorry, Carolyn. Forgive me for interrupting you. I was going to ask, though, it must be so torturous to the leaders of the movement, Martin Luther King included, to have young children -- he knew what risks you were taking. He knew that you were going to be the front lines, and that your parents had to work and couldn't risk their jobs and couldn't risk retaliation in the community, and the children could. Was he torn up about it?

MCKINSTRY: You know, I've had the pleasure over the years of sitting at the feet of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. And Rev. Shuttlesworth told us that Dr. King was very troubled the night before about children being involved in the marching. But before Dr. King could really express his concern and his troubledness about it, Bevel had assembled. The children had gathered. They had spread the word, and it was really almost too late. But I believe that what happened was what was supposed to happen.

O'BRIEN: Carol McKinstry, we're out of time. Thank you. She and I sat down not too long ago -- about a year ago now, really before the candidacy of Barack Obama took off. And we spoke for hours. And it's lovely to chat with you again. Thanks for being with us, Ms. McKinstry.

MCKINSTRY: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Really appreciate it.

And just like us, the CNN iReporters are busy sending out reports about what the MLK holiday and also the inauguration tomorrow mean to them. So, why don't we get a little sampling. Take a look.


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

FRANCO CARAPELLOTTI AND ZACH HAWROT, STEUBENVILLE, OHIO: January 20th is going to be a huge celebration, and it's going to be the birth of a new era for not only the United States but the whole world.

ANDREA ARMSTRONG: I came because I wanted to experience the excitement firsthand, and Obama, you know, he's about not being ordinary but being extraordinary, and so I wanted to be a part of that (INAUDIBLE).


O'BRIEN: Lots of activity on the Mall here in Washington, D.C., with the crowd behind us. You can hear over my shoulder the concert that aired on HBO yesterday. They're replaying it today, partly a test of the audio system and also partly a way to entertain the folks who have come out today.

The weather is not so bad. I can't believe I'm saying that, because I'm kind of freezing.

MARTIN: We had snow earlier.

O'BRIEN: After five hours, it's a little chilly. But truly, the spirit out here is really wonderful. We've got some other stories to update for you.

A development in the story, the US Airways Flight 1549. Some people now telling CNN that they were on that very same plane just a couple of days before the crash, and they heard loud bangs on the side of the plane. Abbie Boudreau is going to join us a bit with that CNN exclusive to update you on the situation there.

And, of course, it cannot be easy to share the marquee with history. So how does the Sundance kid compete with the president- elect? We'll tell you what he said straight ahead. Stay with us. Got a short break.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN's live coverage of Martin Luther King Day and also a look ahead to tomorrow's historic inauguration. I'm Soledad O'Brien live in Washington, D.C. We're going to have more for you in a moment from here.

Want to get you right to Tony Harris, though, at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. We're look at some of the stories making news today. Good to see you, Tony.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Good to see you, Soledad. Right now, some breaking news for you, we want to tell but one of the last acts on this, the last full day of the Bush presidency. He has commuted the prison sentences of two former border guards. Ignacio Ramos (ph) and Jose Campion (ph) were convicted, fired and sent to prison for shooting and killing a Mexican drug smuggler in 2005. The case ignited heated debate, you'll recall, over the issue of immigration, illegal immigration.

The president says he thinks the men got fair trials, but he thinks their ten-plus years sentences were too harsh. Both men are now to be released on March 20th.

We also have new information about the US Airways plane that ditched Thursday in the Hudson River. Some people tell us they were on the same flight, the very same aircraft just two days before the crash. They say they also heard loud bangs on one side of the plane, and the flight attendants told them an emergency landing was a possibility. CNN's special investigations correspondent Abbie Boudreau is here now. And Abbie, this is some fascinating information.

ABBIE BOUDREAU, SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far, we've talked to three passengers who say they were on the same US Airways Flight, 1549 from LaGuardia to CharLotte just two days before the Thursday ditching into the Hudson River. Those passengers tell CNN there were problems on that flight as well.

They say about 20 minutes into their trip, they heard several very loud bangs coming from the right side of the plane. One passenger reported even seeing flames from the engine. They tell CNN a flight attendant announced the flight would return to LaGuardia, but then about ten minutes later, according to three passengers we talked to, the pilot then announced they had run some tests in the air, and the pilot said there had been a series of compressor stalls on the right engine. But he then said it was safe to continue on to Charlotte, which they did.

Now, Steve Jeffrey was a passenger on Tuesday's flight. He rembers being so scared that he texted his wife to say good-bye, fearing the worst.


STEVE JEFFREY, US AIRWAYS PASSENGER: Again, I fly all the time, so it's -- the loudness and the tone of the sound of these four bangs, again, it was not an explosion, it was just a very loud banging. Louder than anything I've heard. And again, I fly all the time. For the last 20 years, that's my business, and never heard anything like it. It was just too loud and too sudden and abrupt. You know, it probably was over two minutes, those four bangs occurred, and it just -- you just knew it was just abnormal. It didn't fit in the realm of things, and it just made your heart sink. You know, it really just made you wonder.


BOUDREAU: According to expert Aviation Consulting, an Indianapolis firm staffed by commercial pilots, the plane that experienced these reported compressor stalls on Tuesday was the same aircraft that was forced into the Hudson River two days later. Now, the firm tells CNN it confirmed that information through its contacts in the aviation industry.

A US Airways spokesperson tells me that they're looking into this, though neither the airline nor the NTSB could confirm whether the plane involved in the crash had compressor stalls two days prior. Experts we talked to say compressor stalls can result in momentary air loss to the engine, and in more serious compressor stalls, the engine can just shut down.

The NTSB says as part of its investigation into the Hudson River crash, it will be looking at all maintenance activities but has no indications at this point of any anomalies or any malfunctions in the aircraft so far in this investigation. The NTSB says it is focusing on a bird strike as a likely reason for both engines failing during Thursday's flight.

HARRIS: Wow, that is fascinating, and now part of a larger investigation. Abbie, appreciate it. Thank you.

BOUDREAU: Thank you.

HARRIS: Let's send you back to Washington, D.C., now, MLK TO TODAY and Soledad O'Brien.

O'BRIEN: All right, Tony. Thank you very much.

Congressman John Lewis of Georgia is one of the last surviving speakers, frankly, from the historic civil rights march on Washington back in 1963. And we have the good fortune of having him out here with us today.

When we were working on our documentary "Black in America," you took me to your office, and you said, let me show you something out my window, and you showed me you can see the Lincoln Monument from -- the Lincoln Memorial from your office, and what that meant to you. I mean, it was really one of the most poignant moments, I think. What has that meant to you as a person who was here and a person who was beaten on the march to Selma that your office now overlooks all of this. Describe that to me.

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: Well, it is unreal. It is unbelievable each day when I walk into the office and look out the window and look down on the Mall. This is my fifth (ph) office on the third floor of the Capitol. And to behold the view, to know that 45 years ago I was standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking toward the Capitol.

And now all these years later I can look where we stood, and hear, still hear the voice of Dr. King ringing in my ear, saying, "I have a dream today, a dream deeply rooted in the American dream." And I remember when I got up to speak, I looked to my right, I looked to my left, and I looked straight ahead. I saw a sea of humanity.

O'BRIEN: Today, we have Renee Fleming in our ears because of course they're rerunning the concert from yesterday. Your speech on the Mall was remarkable also. You said, "We march today for jobs and freedom, but we have nothing to be proud of." How much progress have we made? How much do we have to be proud of? Is this arrival? Is this it?

LEWIS: Oh, no we have a great deal to be proud of today. We have come a distance. We have changed America forever. A nonviolent revolution has occurred in America in the past 45 years. You know, Soledad, 45 years ago, in many parts of the American South, black people could not register to vote. They had to pass a so-called literacy test.

O'BRIEN: Which had ridiculous questions on it. Give me an example of some of them.

LEWIS: Well, there were questions like count the number of bubbles in a bar of soap. Count the number of jelly beans in a jar.

O'BRIEN: Basically, obstacles to getting votes.

LEWIS: Well, you had to pay a poll tax. Black people stood in what I call unmoveable lines in Alabama. In Mississippi, people were beaten. Some people were shot and killed for daring to attempt to register to vote. Hundreds and thousands of people went to jail in the South.

And three young men that I will never, ever forget, three young men that I knew, two white and one African-American, went out to investigation the burning of an African-American church to be used for a registration workshop. These three young men were arrested, taken to jail, later beaten, shot and killed and their bodies were discovered six weeks later, buried under a mound of dirt. And I cannot forget when we tried to walk across that bridge in Selma, trying just to get up.

O'BRIEN: You were beaten.

LEWIS: I was beaten. I had a concussion at the bridge. I thought I saw death. I thought I was going to die. And if someone had told me a few weeks later, a few months later after Lyndon Johnson signed the Votings Rights Act 44 years ago, and 44 years later that we would be witnessing, a day after we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, the inauguration of an African-American as president of the United States -- I told someone a day or so ago, I don't know if I'm going to be able to control myself. I really don't know. And I cried the night of the election. I cried so much. Someone asked me, what are you going to do when Barack Obama stands up to take the oath of office? I said if I have any tears left, I'm going to cry some more.

O'BRIEN: My guess, sir, is that you will be crying that day. Thank you for talking with us. Always wonderful to see you, Congressman. We really appreciate it.

LEWIS: Well, thank you. Good to see you. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We're going to talk a little bit more with some of the legends of the civil rights movement and also take a look at what's happening in Sundance. People there are missing what's happening here but watching it on TV. If Robert Redford had known that Sundance week would be competing with America's big week, you think maybe he would have postponed the film festival until after the inauguration credits rolled?

Let's take you to CNN's Ted Rowlands. He's in Park City, Utah.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, Robert Redford says no, he actually invites the attention on Washington, D.C., during his festival. This week's festival of course is all about films and filmmakers. But actually, this year's festival is consumed with Washington, D.C., and the inauguration of Barack Obama.


SUSAN SARANDON, ACTRESS, IN "THE GREATEST": I don't want everybody thinking that we're blessed.

ROWLANDS: Susan Sarandon is premiering her movie, "The Greatest," at Sundance. Then, along with many other Hollywood stars, she's heading to D.C. for the inauguration.

SARANDON: I'm going to New York and we'll take the train, and, yes, I'm really excited.

ROWLANDS: Sundance is normally all about movies. This year, it's a lot of Obama.

PIERCE BROSNAN, ACTOR: It will be up to the young people to get behind this man, this government, to bring about change, and that will come again from hard work.

ROWLANDS: Actor Ashton Kutcher and MySpace CEO Krista Wolf launched "Presidential Pledges, asking people to follow the lead of more than 50 celebrities by pledging to do something positive for the country.

ASHTON KUTCHER, ACTOR: Barack Obama's not going to come in and put his hand on the Bible and suddenly all the problems in the world are going to change. I think people are recognizing that. He doesn't have the magic wand. We do.

ROWLANDS: Sundance founder Robert Redford says he doesn't mind the timing.

RODBERT REDFORD, FOUNDER, SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: Coming in the middle of our festival doesn't bother me at all. I think it's a -- because it's a good thing that's happened.

AMY POEHLER, ACTRESS: Hello, I am Hillary Clinton.

ROWLANDS: Amy Poehler, famous for her "Saturday Night Live" imitation of Hillary Clinton, has a film at the festival.

POEHLER: I'm excited about all the new comedy that's going to come out, all of his Cabinet members and how they'll be portrayed by people on "Saturday Night Live."

ROWLANDS: Even party-hopper Paris Hilton has something to say about Obama.

PARIS HILTON, SOCIALITE: Congratulations, Obama. You rock.


ROWLANDS: And tomorrow during the inauguration, Sundance is virtually shutting down. They're showing CNN's coverage of the inauguration on big screens throughout Park City. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Ted, can you tell her it's congratulations, President- elect Obama? Obama's not just his first name.

ROWLANDS: Yes. Runs the gamut.

O'BRIEN: All right, we're going to take a short break. We're about -- (LAUGHTER). Little bit to learn there. We've got to take a short break. When we're back in just a moment, we're going to continue to mark the celebration, the memorial of Martin Luther King, whose day we celebrate here out on the Mall. You can see the crowds out, many out celebrating the day, also very much with an eye toward the inauguration of Barack Obama tomorrow, a historic moment for the nation.

We're going to continue our coverage right here in just a moment. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: We are here at CNN excited to bring to you an excerpt of the film "From MLK to Today," from Hollywood director Antoine Fuqua. It is a unique look at the civil-rights struggle intertwined with Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Please take a look.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was but 26 years old when he led a bus boycott in Montgomery that mobilized a movement.

(END VIDEO CLIP) O'BRIEN: You can see the entire short film tonight right here on CNN at 7 p.m. Eastern time, and Roland Martin and I will host a SPECIAL REPORT: FROM MLK TO TODAY. Incredible to talk with that director, Antoine Fuqua, about how nervous he was going forward and really the pressure of getting it right on such an important day.

His words have inspired a nation, of course, and his words have inspired more than one president. We're going to hear in just a moment how the words of Martin Luther King affected the president- elect. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about the fierce urgency of now on his 1962 visit to Washington as he pressed for an end to segregation and racial intolerance. Barack Obama was inspired by those words on the campaign trail.


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.



OBAMA: When I was thinking about whether to seek the presidency, there were voices that counselled me to wait. Why not stay in Washington for a few more years, they said, to master the game. The fact is, I've been in Washington long enough to know that that game needs to change.


OBAMA: And I am running for president right now because of what Dr. King called "the fierce urgency of now." This moment, this moment is too important to sit on the sidelines.