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Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr, Day

Aired January 19, 2009 - 14:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, MLK TO TODAY: Memphis, Tennessee. It might have been where it all ended, where his life ended, but it's certainly not where Doctor Martin Luther King dream's ended. A lot has changed from MLK to today, including the prom in a Mississippi town where blacks and whites now can dance on the same dance floor. A noteworthy event that they have now made a movie about it. We'll talk to some of the students and the director, too.
And future of the country prepares to celebrate the president at the Kid's Inaugural Concert. We'll tell you about that straight ahead, as well.

I'm Soledad O'Brien. Welcome, everybody, to CNN's live coverage. of -


O'BRIEN: ... Buildup, of course, to inauguration day. People here telling us they're here for two reasons. One reason, of course, to celebrate and honor the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., but of course tomorrow is the day when Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th U.S. president. That will happen just 22 hours from now.

Joining me this afternoon, CNN's Kate Bolduan, and Don Lemon, they are on the National Mall here in Washington, D.C.

Kate, when we saw you earlier, it wasn't that crowded. We also have Chris Lawrence I should mention, he's at Lafayette Park, across from the White House.

But, Kate, I'll start with you. It was kind of empty. You're out there just a little bit by yourself and I had just a handful of people behind me. Now Roland and I have a genuine crowd.


O'BRIEN: And so do you.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You can absolutely see a crowd here. Let me show you what we're looking at right here, Soledad.

We've got a crowd right here. You can see all through The Mall, the crowds have steadily been building throughout the day. You can also see as we go out, all the preparations that have continued throughout the day. The sound equipment continues, the medical tents, the food tents, the refreshments, as well as all of these people coming out here in order to kind of scope out their spot and see where they need to be when they come and see this tomorrow.

All here trying to get a glimpse of the capitol, of the West Front, where Barack Obama will be sworn in. Also, taking a look at the jumbo trons because that will be the only way many people are going to be able to get a glimpse. We have been talking to some people today. We were able to meet two church groups from Chester, Pennsylvania, who came out here and all say it doesn't matter what it took, they all had to get out here to see this for themselves. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's unreal. I still don't believe it. I still can't really the fathom what has happened. That's why I wanted to see it for myself. This is something I hoped for and my ancestors have hoped for, for so long, that it's happened, it's like anything is possible. That's why I had to be here today to see it for myself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is history and I wanted to experience it for myself and be able to tell my kids, their kids, and whatever they decide to carry on from there.


BOLDUAN: You can see the excitement, you can feel the excitement, and you can hear the excitement from where I am, Soledad. Two miles worth, the entire National Mall will be open for the first time to accommodate the huge crowds. And everyone I talked to, they said, sure they have to get up early. Sure, it will probably going to be really cold. They say they aren't going to miss it. Nothing will keep them from getting here. You can tell by the crowd around me, nothing is stopping anyone from getting out here today, either.

O'BRIEN: Yes, nothing will stop them. It will be interesting to see, Kate, if the estimates, the 1.7 million to 2 million people, will actually come true. Because it is chilly. On the other hand, we have been out here all day. And the crowd, frankly, behind me, I imagine yours, too, have been out here as well. And no one's really budging. So I suspect it will be really, really crowded. Maybe they will make that 2 million mark.

Hey, thank you very much for that update for us.

President-elects message of change resonated around the country, especially with young people. Many of them expected, in fact, to attend tonight's Kids Inaugural Concert, which pays tribute to military families. Want to get a look at that, preview of that. Don Lemon has that for us on The Mall, as well.

Hey, Don.

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Soledad. So, Kate Bolduan just finished her live shot right next to me and these guys are still here. And still very excited and screaming.

You know, it's been really interesting to see how young people have been involved in this campaign, have been really so involved in this campaign, unlike any other political campaign ever. Usually we talk about the youth vote and young people coming out to the polls, and it doesn't really turn out. But this time, it did.

We talked to some children who got very interested in this campaign at their school. They go to an academy in Atlanta, and really, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Atlanta. There's a very interesting story about how it got started. Ron Clark was a young man who became Teacher of the Year, then went on the "Oprah" show and touted his book. Oprah said -held his book up and said, "buy this book." When she did that, the book became number two on "The New York Times" bestseller list.

With the profits taken from that book, he got to build this school. It gave him the cash, the money to build this school in Atlanta. Those kids, that he has taught, at this school by allowing them to be creative and open and talk about race, in any way that they can. So they got interested in the political process. They started rapping to each other about Obama, then came up with a music video and a rap, a way to get their feelings out about the campaign. And this is what happened last night as they came to perform for us in the CNN Newsroom about 7 o'clock last night. I wanted you to take a listen.


LEMON: This new administration getting young people involved.


LEMON: It came out more so than anytime to vote, and even you said you were never interested in politics.

BOW WOW: Never interested in politics. Never. I felt like the only reason why I was into it this time was because now I'm old enough to really understand what's going on, understanding the struggle, understanding watching close friends and relatives being affected by the recession. And just witnessing these same things hands on, right in front of me. So, I wanted to actually do something about it. That's why I started my own movement, Walk Across America Campaign, to get the youth to register.

So for me, it was just finally having a president in office that I could really relate to. I play basketball, the president plays basketball. Just having that connection means a lot to young people. That's what draws us into it. It's like the family that you can really touch. It's like you would think they live right next door to you. It seems like s a special connection that you get from the Obamas.

LEMON: So what, if it's you two in a game of pick up, who's going to win?

BOW WOW: I'm sorry. I'm going to have to take it to him.


LEMON: You hear that? Is that a challenge?

BOW WOW: Yeah, we could do that.

LEMON: You know I saw you looking around at the capitol. We talked about that. Just look how beautiful it is. Did you ever think you would be in the position that you are in now, to be able to perform for the first African-American president standing here at the steps of the capitol?

BOW WOW: I still don't believe -- I still don't know, like I know how big it is, but it hasn't hit me all the way yet. Later on, it will, when he's sitting right there in the front row. For me to look back here, man, and just know that what's getting ready to happen, I never would have thought it would ever happen.

So many comedians used to crack jokes, but it's actually happened. Just to show you if you set a goal and you dream big, that you can go for it. And you can be anything you want to be.


LEMON: Obviously, that was not the right tape. I was supposed to give that to you a little later on. That was Bow Wow. Bow Wow is performing at a concert tonight. It's a Kid's Inaugural, takes place 7 o'clock tonight at the Verizon Center, here in Washington, D.C.

All of the kids, when they saw Bow Wow come up on the screen, Soledad, said hey, that's not the Ron Clark kids. That's Bow Wow. I know who that is. But all these young people really interested in this election, really interested in the campaign and seeing Barack Obama be inaugurated.

Again, the kids I talked about last night are the Ron Clark kids. They're here performing for different inaugural balls and venues here. They are also volunteering today for service projects as many of the people here are, as well. Bow Wow did the same thing. He is performing tonight at an inaugural concert for children.

Again, young people interested. Older people interested. This lady behind me on her phone saying turn on CNN. We're on CNN.


O'BRIEN: I'm hearing a little bit of enthusiasm there with you, Don.

LEMON: Just a little bit.

O'BRIEN: Thanks, Don. Appreciate it.

O'BRIEN: Bow Wow's all grown up.

MARTIN: Yeah. He's not Little Bow-Wow anymore. Now he's just Bow Wow.

O'BRIEN: Just Bow Wow.

(LAUGHTER) We're going to ask the serious question today, what could Barack Obama's swearing-in mean for Palestinians in Gaza? Apparently the speedy exit of Israeli troops. Take a look at that.

The only thing in Washington that might be more feverish than the excitement is the emotion. We'll talk to some people who think they didn't think they would live to see the historic event tomorrow. All that ahead, right here on our special coverage, MLK TO TODAY.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to our special coverage, FROM MLK TO TODAY. It's time to check in with my colleague, Tony Harris, at CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. Tony has a look at some of the other stories, happening today.

Hey, Tony.

TONY HARRIS, CNN NEWS ANCHOR, Hey, Soledad. We have some interesting new information to share with you 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, in fact, 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 Unit Correspondent Abbie Boudreau is here now.

And, Abbie, give us the very latest because you're continuing to work the phones on this?


So far we've talked to three passengers who say they were on the same U.S. Airways Flight 1549, from LaGuardia to Charlotte just two days before the Thursday ditching in 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 even reported seeing flames from the engine. They tell CNN a flight attendant then announced the flight would return to LaGuardia. But about 10 minutes later, according to these three passengers we talked to, the pilot then announced they had run some tests in the air and the pilots said there had been a series of compressor stalls on the right engine. He said it was safe to continue on to Charlotte. We talked to Steve Jeffrey, who was a passenger on Tuesday's flight. He remembers being so scared that he texted his wife to say good-bye, fearing the worst.


STEVE JEFFREY, U.S. AIRWAYS PASSENGER: Again, I fly all the time so 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. Again, I fly all the time, for the last 20 years. That's my business. Never heard anything like it. It was just too loud and too sudden and abrupt, you know. Probably with over two minutes, those four bangs occurred, it was just -- you just knew it was just abnormal. It didn't fit in the realm of things. It just made your heart sink. It really just made you wonder.


BOURDREAU: 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. The firm tells CNN it confirmed the information through its contacts in the aviation industry.

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

The NTSB says as part of its investigation into the Hudson River crash, it will be looking into all maintenance activities, but has no reports of any anomalies or any malfunctions in the aircraft so far in the investigation.

The NTSB says it is focusing on a bird strike as a likely reason both engines failed during Thursday's flight.

HARRIS: Abbie, you were on the phone just moments before joining me on the set. What did you learn in that conversation?

BOUDREAU: We learned the passenger that we just saw --

HARRIS: Steve Jeffrey.

BOUDREAU: Steve Jeffrey had talked to someone at U.S. Airways and did confirm that he was on that same plane that went down on Thursday, that he was on it on Tuesday.

HARRIS: That very same aircraft.

BOUDREAU: That very, very same aircraft. That's brand new information we're just bringing into you right now.

HARRIS: OK. Abbie, appreciate it. Thank you.

BOUDREAU: Thank you.

HARRIS: The war in Gaza is over as suddenly as it started, or maybe on hold is a better term. Israeli troops and tanks are leaving that devastated enclave in line with the ceasefire declared Saturday. Actually, there are two ceasefires. Israel and Hamas made separate declarations. Israeli forces aim to be gone from Gaza before the Obama swearing-in.

Now looking ahead, the Saudis are pledging $1 billion to help Gazans rebuild and warning Israel not to ignore comprehensive Land for Peace plan first proposed in 2002.

Now, let's send you back to Washington and Soledad O'Brien.

O'BRIEN: All right, Tony, thank you very much. Appreciate that.

We want to bring you some live pictures of the Vice President- Elect Joe Biden. He's heading to a Habitat for Humanity event, the second project for his day of service events. As we mentioned, 5,000 projects and more that we know of. You can see he's got the belt on, and the leather bomber jacket. Because again, he's going to be put to work. They're not sure he's going to work on three different rooms are being built in this house in Washington, D.C., but it's a good photo op. And, of course, a way to underscore the message, the theme of the day, which is - you know, get out there and volunteer. No idle hands.

MARTIN: He's taking it a little too far with the tool belt, now. Come on.

O'BRIEN: There's nothing in the little pockets.

MARTIN: Nothing in the tool belt. Nothing. Looks like something I would wear.

O'BRIEN: Roland, that's not the point. The point is --

MARTIN: OK, I'm sorry. My bad.

O'BRIEN: The importance of volunteering. But he is decked out. I think as VP he won't get to wear that, so as VP-elect, he still can wear that.

MARTIN: Sort of like playing cowboy. I'm going to play tool belt.

O'BRIEN: So, we have had the opportunity today to see pictures of the President-Elect Barack Obama and his service project. They had him painting. Michelle Obama stuffing bags.

MARTIN: He didn't have a painter suit on, though.

O'BRIEN: He didn't have a painter suit on, no. It is a little over the top.


Amtrak Joe, what's in the belt?


O'BRIEN: But it's been actually really fun to show the different service projects. And as much as they are service projects, they are also truly photo opportunities.

MARTIN: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: Because the goal is to underscore the importance and the commitment, as they say, to service of all Americans, not just necessarily military service, although that is certainly a major way to serve this country. But other kinds of service.

Looks like he can carve a pretty straight line.

MARTIN: I have a new name. Joe The Builder.

O'BRIEN: Instead of Joe The Plumber, all right. Yeah. I don't think anybody needs that.

MARTIN: Ah, yeah. Precisely.

O'BRIEN: Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream, as you may know, took root in a street in Atlanta, which is known as Sweet Auburn Avenue. From there, it was nurtured in African-American churches in small towns and big cities across the South. His dream, and his journey, eventually ended in Memphis, Tennessee. But the movement, truly, still lives in eternity.

CNN's T.J. Holmes is at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. If you haven't been there, now T.J. back me up on this. This is quite a museum. It is so remarkable. Really, people should take their kids there to see part of the history of this nation.

T.J. HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. By the way, everybody back here says hello. You spent a lot of time here during the 40th anniversary of King's death special. Everybody here says, hi.

But yes, a festive atmosphere, about 3,000 people have come through so far, a lot of kids, lot of families. And these two, a couple of NBA legends, a couple of Hall of Famers. Dave Bing and, of course, Julius Irving, the Good Doctor. I am obviously the point guard in this group.

Gentlemen, I appreciate you being here. They are here because they are being honored by the museum. Each year they actually do a sports legacy award. These two are being honored this year.

Dave, I will start with you and ask you this question.

I heard you talking earlier, you were talking on the radio interview there about King and about your days playing basketball. You talked about how Doctor King and what he did paved the way, it opened doors for you on the court. But maybe more so for what you were able to do and achieve after you got out of basketball.

DAVE BING, NBA HALL OF FAMER: Without a doubt. I don't think I would be doing what I'm doing today -- or have done what I've done if Doctor King didn't do what he did. He made folks like me acceptable, in the general public, if you will. As a business person, there's no way that I could have done what I've done without all of the struggles that he went through. So I am very thankful for that.

HOLMES: And Doctor J, I know you've been active as well. You do a lot of speaking engagements. You do a lot in regard to civil rights and the movement that has continued. But this Martin Luther King Day, I heard you mention, is a little different. Certainly different from any one you have ever been part of before. Why is that?

JULIUS IRVING, NBA HALL OF FAMER: This is the best one I have ever experienced. Mainly because I'm here; I'm in Memphis, I'm with someone the stature of Dave Bing, and we're talking about somebody who has not only been a hero and inspiration to both of us, but to 10s of millions of people around the world.

You know, who just let us know that it was possible to do anything, to be anything, to become what we aspire to be because we live in the greatest country in the world, and that door for it to be an even greater country was opened by Doctor King.

HOLMES: Where along the way, I'll ask both of you this, did you have doubts? Because still, certainly you more so played at a time where you know, it still wasn't that easy for a black athletes. Hell, it wasn't easy for a black man out there. So were there doubts? At what point did you think that maybe a black president was possible? Was it in the past few years? Was it until Barack Obama came along? Did you really think tomorrow would be possible?

BING: I'm an optimist. So I always felt that if given the opportunity, we could aspire to be whatever, and whoever we wanted to be. Did I ever think that it would happen in my lifetime? The answer is no. But I am elated to see what's happening right now.

But I think what's more important than us focusing on Barack, as the first black president, is that he has been able to open the doors and bring a lot of people together. And our country is going through a lot of problems and struggles right now, and we need every resource that we can get, to come together to make this a better state, a better nation. And he's the guy that's going to lead us to do that.

IRVING: If I could chime in on that, you know, I know with the last several administrations we had, it was always a party won, then the other party did everything in its power to try to disrupt the administration's being successful. My hope and my dream, if I am allowed to have a dream, is that there would be unity amongst the parties. Because there's so much brain power out there to handle the situations. That's the only way it's going to be handled, with one supporting the other. So I just hope the in-fighting of the past few administrations and the last 20 years of our life, between Republicans and Democrats, gets put aside for the common good.

HOLMES: Gentlemen, again, the Sports Legacy Award recipients from the National Civil Rights Museum, Doctor J, Dave Bing. You might notice, Dave Bing might be Mayor Bing in a little while. I want to throw that out there. Running for mayor up in Detroit, where he spent so much time with the Pistons.

Gentlemen, thank you so much.

BING: Thank you.


Pleasure, just being here with you. You all enjoy being honored, enjoy the rest of your time here.

IRVING: Thank you.

HOLMES: Soledad, that's what's happening here. A lot more happening. Certainly hope to talk to you later, but I will hand it back over to you in D.C. for now.

O'BRIEN: T.J., thank you very much.

As it all unfolds, we'll be there for that as we continue our coverage. Our special coverage today, FROM MLK TO TODAY, where we honor the work and legacy of Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.


O'BRIEN: The crowd is in agreement with that. Of course, many of the folks are here because they're here to see the inauguration of Barack Obama.



O'BRIEN: Actor Morgan Freeman wanted to push race relations forward in his own backyard, so he offered to pay for the first integrated prom in Charleston, Mississippi. He made the offer twice, and there was 11 years in between before his proposal was accepted. That effort is the subject of a new documentary called "Prom Night In Mississippi." It chronicles the growing pains the community went through, just last year, as they prepared for the prom. I want to play a little clip for you as a couple kids describe how parents reacted at a meeting about this integrated prom.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I ain't like that, I mean, they were all -a prom?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ain't gonna be rubbing up on my daughter at no prom. It ain't happening in this house. As long as she's living with me, she will not attend a mixed prom. That's not how we raised her.


O'BRIEN: The film made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, in Park City Utah, over the weekend. Paul Saltzman is the director. Jessica Sugars and Chastity Buckley are two students who are featured in the film. And they all join us.

It's nice to have you. Thanks for being with us.

Paul, I will start with you. Clearly this was a great story, but why did you think it would be a great movie?

PAUL SALTZMAN, DIRECTOR, "PROM NIGHT IN MISSISSIPPI": I didn't know that at first. I thought it was important to tell the story. And I think it's important to tell the story because if young people could see this film -- whether they integrated the prom or not, how it went or not -- if young people could see it and come out and give some reflection about their own attitudes, beliefs and prejudices because we all have them.

It just happened that the film turned out to be rather powerful and rather intimate, and actually, Jessica and Chastity are part of the reason because they had the courage to really speak their feelings in a small town in which speaking your feelings around racism just wasn't done much.

O'BRIEN: Let's turn to Jessica and Chastity. I would like both of you ladies to answer this question for me.

Did separate proms ever bother you? I mean, before the offer was made to integrate the prom, did it kind of seem strange to you that you didn't have an integrated prom?

CHASIDY BUCKLEY, FEATURED IN PROM NIGHT IN MISSISSIPPI: Well, yeah. I mean, we went to school together, we played sports together, and just at the end you know, separating. It just didn't make sense to us. So yeah, it bothered us. We wanted it to be together.

JESSICA SHIVERS, FEATURED IN "PROM NIGHT IN MISSISSIPPI": It was actually a great experience, though. Integrating was the best thing for us, for our prom. We've been together since kindergarten.

O'BRIEN: There had to be concerns among some of the parents that it wouldn't go well. What were those concerns? And at the end of the day, how did the prom go?

SHIVERS: The prom went fine. There was no problem whatsoever. So I don't actually know why the people had concerns in the first place.

BUCKLEY: A lot of like the white parents were concerned about safety and they were afraid that fights were going to break out. But the prom went smoothly. I mean, it was great. Nobody got hurt or anything. We all had a great night.

I don't know what their concerns for safety were for. I mean, we all went to will school together and we pretty much got along so I don't know why they had concerns about safety. But in the end, the prom went smoothly and nothing happened.

SALTZMAN: There was a great moment of irony for me.

O'BRIEN: Paul, then the -oh, go ahead.


It was a great moment of irony for me from behind the camera, which is when I was doing the research and asking people what was the problem having a prom together. What whites usually said is, well, you know, blacks are into drugs and they're into violence, and on and on and on that way. And of course, the integrated prom, as you see in the film, just was a marvelous affair. At the white prom, two kids got in a fight. So it worked the other way around.


SHIVERS: Yeah, right.

O'BRIEN: The integrated prom, is this now going to happen year after year? Is it a one-time thing, 2008, never again? What happens?

SHIVERS: Well, we pray that it continues. So we're hoping -- we hope it continues and we hope we inspire people to really express their feelings about the prom and not segregate.

BUCKLEY: They're actually in the process of planning the prom this year and they're planning for it to be integrated. So we hope it happens.

O'BRIEN: Another sign of progress.


O'BRIEN: Paul Saltsman, the director of Prom Night in Mississippi and Jessica Shivers and Chassity Buckley, two students who are featured in that film. Thanks for being with us. Good luck with your film. We sure appreciate you spending some time with us.


O'BRIEN: Ahead, we're going to take you back to the mountain top, immortalizing Martin Luther King Jr. and his dream on the national mall. Stay with us as we take a look FROM MLK TO TODAY.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to our special coverage, FROM MLK TO TODAY. Eighty years old is just how old Martin Luther King, Jr. would be, if he were alive today. King's life and dream being immortalized with the building of the MLK National Memorial right here on the mall.

Joining us to talk about this project, someone who has really pushed it through. He's the president of the MLK Jr. Foundation, Harry Johnson. It's nice to see you again.


O'BRIEN: We were here together not all that long ago for the ground-breaking. What kind of progress has been made since then?

JOHNSON: Soledad, we are so pleased that, today, we are about 104 million dollars, based on some new donations that came in this morning -- we're ready to break ground.

O'BRIEN: You have raised 104 million?

JOHNSON: We have raised 104 million out of the 120 that we need to build this memorial. We're ready to go. We just need a building permit from the Parks Service.

O'BRIEN: That's got to be coming pretty soon. Many people do not know that Martin Luther King, Jr. was an Alpha.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the Alphas in the house? Just checking.

JOHNSON: There you go. There you go.

O'BRIEN: For those who do not know -- quiet down, Alphas. For those who do not, Alpha is a black fraternity and there are so many members. It's huge.

JOHNSON: Always. We have over 700 chapters. Next week, we will bring in a new general president. But it was Alpha men who came up with the idea to build a memorial to Dr. King that has gone on for about 25 years. Up to this date, we have this money, have the design, have the land, and are ready now to have the first memorial to an African-American men, first memorial to a man of peace and a non- president.

O'BRIEN: You have a big announcement that you are going to announce later today, but we will get it first.

JOHNSON: We are so pleased that the Excelon Foundation out of Chicago, Illinois -- Frank Clark gave us a million dollars today. The Boeing foundation gave us another million dollars. So that takes us to 104 million dollars. So soon, on this mall, you will see a memorial to a King who will sit between two presidents, Lincoln and Jefferson.

O'BRIEN: I have seen some of the mock-ups of what it is going to look like. Briefly describe for everybody what they will expect and when they can expect to actually walk through it.

JOHNSON: Here's what you're going to see: you are going to see a huge boulder that's split in two. We call that the Mountain of Despair. That's where people will walk through the Mountain of Despair. Once on the other side of the Mountain of Despair, in a crescent-shaped wall, 700 feet long, will be the words etched into stone, Dr. King's words. You still haven't seen Dr. King until you walk towards the Jefferson.

Once you get towards the Jefferson, there with his arms crossed, with a scroll of paper in his hand, you will see Dr. King 28 feet tall. And the beauty of this site, four acres of prime real estate, is where the Cherry Blossoms happen to bloom. When you start looking at all the metaphors that have gone into this memorial -- the Cherry Blossoms typically bloom the week Dr. King was assassinated.

MARTIN: Just like Obama's campaign, you had a lot of people giving small donations. They give nickels, dimes and dollars.

O'BRIEN: You'll take five dollars.

JOHNSON: Five dollars. There is a gentleman out of Alabama that has been sending religiously every month, five from his Social Security check for the past five years. Five dollars, we want this to be the memorial the people actually build.

We are pleased that to get our building permit, the Walmart corporation gave us a letter of credit for 12.5 million dollars, which allows us to show the park service we have enough money to build this memorial.

MARTIN: Website?


O'BRIEN: You can contribute right from there. Help you out with that. Harry Johnson, always nice to see you.

JOHNSON: Always a pleasure to be with both of you all. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Really appreciate that. Got another Harry for you to talk about. You know him as a singer, and an entertainer, and an actor and a peace activist, Harry Belafonte, who was also a confident of Martin Luther King Jr, who even paid for him to be bailed out of jail after he was arrested in Birmingham.

Tomorrow night, Harry Belafonte is hosting the Peace Ball as part of Barack Obama's inauguration. He's with us today. Nice to see you, Mr. Belafonte. Thanks for talking with us.

HARRY BELAFONTE, SINGER/ACTOR: Nice to be with you again.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much. Hey, explain for the folks who may not know your role in history, what you did. You were heavily involved in the movement, but sometimes you were kind of the go- between to Martin Luther King in jail and others who needed to help out financially and other ways.

BELAFONTE: Well, actually, it was three-pronged. Not only to solicit those who had resources to help us with the problems that we faced daily in the movement, but also to speak with the White House and to speak with Bobby Kennedy in moments that problems had to be negotiated with the federal government.

So the duties that I performed were multi-layered, but I always felt that I was fortunate to be in the midst of so many who understood the moment in which we were marching towards a new America.

O'BRIEN: How challenging was it in that time to get people on board with the movement? Was it a tough sell? I know that sometimes it was easier and we read about this, that when Martin Luther King was in prison, in jail, because it was easier to get people to give money. Was it a tough sell for you or were people receptive early on to your message?

BELAFONTE: Everything was really tough, because all of us were in uncharted waters. Where America was going, we had never been before. Dr. King plagued over was he doing the right thing morally; was he making the right choice politically; was he doing the right thing spiritually. In the midst of all that, we had to appeal to people to come to some reasonable understanding that his mission held more good than anything that they imagined should be held in suspicion.

So everybody had to be brought on board, and I think Dr. King led us admirably. Many of us didn't know quite how things would turn out. But we did what we were required to do. As a consequence, I think we're proud of the contribution that is now resulting in what everybody is here celebrating in Washington, DC.

O'BRIEN: There are some people who said to me this is a victory for African-Americans. Do you see it that way, or do you see it as something bigger than that?

BELAFONTE: It's something infinitely bigger than that, but that fact should not be dismissed. African-Americans paid a terrible price for the evolving of America and democracy. But what we have achieved is not selfishly focused. It is broadly based. I have been to Africa. I have been to Europe. I have been to Asia. -- during the entire period of the election and the nominations and the primaries, and I have never seen such a global energy. So many people who saw in us a great hope for their future.

So this has huge ramifications. And what's most interesting is that we're now just at the doorstep of what all this means. We have now just really begun in dealing with the shaping of America and the world's future.

O'BRIEN: Harry Belafonte joining us today. Nice to see you, Mr. Belafonte. Thanks for your time. Always a great pleasure to chat with you.

BELAFONTE: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: Later this afternoon, we will talk about breaking the race barrier and living Martin Luther King's dream. We will speak to two Colorado state lawmakers who are making history straight ahead. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Many people across the country are living proof that Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream has made their dreams come true as well. Two really good examples of this are with me this afternoon. Peter Groff is the president of the Colorado Senate. And in Denver, Terrance Carroll is the Colorado House speaker. They are both the first African-Americans to host both legislative positions simultaneously in any state in the union.

So I guess, first and foremost to you gentlemen, I say congratulations to you. I will start with you, Mr. President, which is the right way to address you, I understand, you're in a state that actually has a very small population of African-Americans. Is there a bigger message then out of your victory?

PETER GROFF, COLORADO SENATE PRESIDENT: I don't think so. Colorado has always been a state where you can break some ground. George Brown was lieutenant governor in the 1970s, the first African- American to hold that position in the nation in 1974, post- Reconstruction. So Colorado has that legacy within us.

O'BRIEN: But Speaker Carroll, what would you like to hear when Barack Obama gets up to that podium, after he's already sworn in and the moment happens? What would you like to hear in the inauguration speech?

TERRANCE CARROLL, COLORADO HOUSE SPEAKER: I would like to hear President Obama -- soon to be President Obama, continue his message of hope and optimism and his message about renewing America's promise, and the message that we heard yesterday in the inaugural concert, that we really are one America and should pull together and focus on our common values and our common ground.

O'BRIEN: Peter, in Colorado, it's different from a lot of states. Even nationally, people were surprised and concerned that Barack Obama would not be able to pull out a victory in a state that has a tiny African-American population. Instead, he ran away with it. What does that tell you about where we are in this nation or is it sort of too small to make big metaphors out of that?

GROFF: I think what's going to happen tomorrow at noon is unbelievable. It's just one of those paths that Dr. King talked about, going to the promised land. What we'll see tomorrow at noon, as proscribed by the constitution, is one of those dreams that he talked about. It really is going to be a phenomenal, phenomenal experience tomorrow to sit here and watch an African-American male become president of the United States. That's exactly what Dr. King was talking about. It just shows how far we have matured as a country.

O'BRIEN: Speaker Carroll, is that the end game? Is that it? Sometimes, I hear people almost saying in terms of we won. And I always think well, game's not over yet. Where do you stand on that?

CARROLL: I don't think we're at the end game. Barack Obama shouldn't be the end of all of our hopes and our dreams. I mean, really, this is just a renewed call for service with President-Elect Obama. The end game really should be what else can we do to include more people into the circle of opportunity in this country. There really won't be an end game until all those people who live on the margins have been brought to the center. And that should be what we're focused on.

O'BRIEN: Both of you are role models in a state where there is not a lot of people who look like you. You automatically get catapulted in your leadership positions to be role models, whether you want it or not. Is it a lot of extra pressure? It's what Barack Obama, to an even bigger degree, is experiencing.

GROFF: Yes, I don't equate being president of the Senate with being president of the United States. There is pressure.

O'BRIEN: Metaphorically. GROFF: Yes. I think what Speaker Carroll and I are just examples that if you work hard, you stay in school, you do the right thing, good things can happen in this country, including for my children tomorrow, at eight and six, who are going to be watching this at their Ebert Elementary in Denver. They are going to be able to say I can be president. I have seen my dad become president of the Senate, seen my mother pastor a church, as their mother does. I have seen my friend, Terrance Carroll, who is a friend of our family, become speaker of the House. I can become anything that I want.

And I think that's what it's about. Terrance and I have done what we're supposed to do. Our colleagues rewarded us with this position. That just shows you where we are in this country.

O'BRIEN: Well, President Groff and Speaker Carroll, I thank both of you gentlemen for joining us to talk about your leadership roles and also a big hearty congratulations. Breaking some barriers. We appreciate your time here today.

Ahead, Memphis, Tennessee was where Dr. King's life ended. But it's Also where the torch has passed to fellow travelers and the rest of us. We'll take you back there in just a little bit.


O'BRIEN: Memphis, Tennessee, April 1968; it was a trip that Dr. King felt he had to make and a speech that he had to give. The rest is history, and the dream, unfortunately, left him and became ours to fulfill. We broadcast Dr. King's last days, the people who were with him then. Take a look.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): Early in 1968, black garbage workers went on strike over low wages in Memphis, Tennessee. Reverend Billy Kyles asked Dr. King to come to Memphis. King's staff opposed it.

REV. SAMUEL "BILLY" KYLES, MONUMENTAL BAPTIST CHURCH: So Martin got word of it, said wait a minute, no, no, no. The garbage men, these are the folks we're talking about, the working poor. We got to go to Memphis.

O'BRIEN: King came, made a speech and agreed to lead a protest march. But it all fell apart when black youth began breaking store windows. Police attacked with billy clubs and tear gas. King had failed to prevent what he had always preached against, violence.

KYLES: He said we've got to have a peaceful march in Memphis.

O'BRIEN: King returned on April 3rd, 1968, staying at the Lorraine Motel. That night, King spoke to an overflow crowd at a black church.

KING JR: I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficulties ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. O'BRIEN: Andrew Young told me it was a speech Dr. King often made when times were dangerous.

ANDREW YOUNG, FORMER COLLEAGUE OF MLK: Because he had done it before, and we had gone on to the next place, I wasn't really taking it serious. It was just a great speech. But I never thought I was listening to his last speech.

KING JR: So I'm happy tonight; I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the lord.

KYLES: He gave it all. And somehow, I guess he knew that would be his last hurrah.

O'BRIEN: The next evening, on April 4th, Dr. King was scheduled to have dinner at the home of Reverend Kyles.

KYLES: I said guys, come on, let's go.

O'BRIEN: In a boardinghouse bathroom across the street, a rifle poked out as Dr. King walked on to the motel balcony.

KYLES: Before I could get to the stairs, the shot rang out. Kappow. Blood was everywhere. The police were coming. I hollered to them "call an ambulance on your police radio, Dr. King has been shot." And they said where did the shot come from. So there's a famous picture pointing to the building across the street. I took a spread from one of the beds and covered him from his neck down. He never spoke a word.

O'BRIEN: Left behind in his papers that day, this sermon with a lasting thought.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The major problem of life is learning how to handle the costly interruptions, the door that slams shut, the plan that got sidetracked, the marriage that failed, or that lovely poem that didn't get written because someone knocked on the door.


O'BRIEN: That wreath, of course, is the room where Martin Luther King was staying. Right outside of that is where he was killed.

We want to show you some pictures of Barack Obama visiting some of the troops earlier today at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It was really how he began his day. It wasn't on the schedule. But today's theme is Day of Service, and it is the way that he is celebrating the contributions of Martin Luther King Jr. So he has been attending certain events throughout the day, and Michelle Obama as well, different events. Joe Biden and Dr. Biden, Joe Biden's wife, also attending various service events and meeting with people.

You can see Martin Luther King III there as well. He spent a little time with the president-elect. We saw him later at another service event. I saw the president-elect painting but -- MARTIN: Go right ahead, Mr. President. I'll just stand back and watch you do your Picasso like work.

O'BRIEN: Of course, it's not just a photo op on the day before Barack Obama accepts the inauguration. It is, of course, an opportunity to underscore a message that is really, really important to him.

MARTIN: Earlier, he said 11,000 service projects across the country.

O'BRIEN: Earlier, it was 5,000. So they have really been able to more than double those figures. That's great news. We got to take a short break. When we come back, we are going to continue to cover this special day, FROM MLK TO TODAY, as we take a look at the contributions of Dr. King and look forward to the inauguration of Barack Obama.