Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
From MLK To Today
Aired January 19, 2009 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AUDIENCE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Just 17 hours from now at noon tomorrow, Barack Obama will put his hand on the Lincoln bible and take his oath as the 44th president of the United States. It will be an extraordinary moment for the country and for the world as well.
Welcome to our CNN special, "From MLK to Today: The Next challenge," on the day that we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we take a look, a new look at the bond between Dr. King and the president-elect Obama. President-elect and Michelle Obama have a very, very busy schedule.
Tonight he is attending a number of dinners. This is Obama, appearing at a number of dinners as well, a number of events, including a concert for children. Sasha and Malia (ph) are expected to be there as well. Where the Obamas go, what they say, we're going to do our very best to bring it to you live tonight. And as for the crowds, they continue to converge on the capital. Some estimates say that two million people will be here to witness Obama's swearing in ceremony.
O'BRIEN: At times it can sound like two million people right here with me, and I know Don Lemon is experiencing a very similar thing on the mall. He's going to join us in just a little bit. CNN's Roland Martin is also on hand. He's at Howard University tonight here in Washington, D.C. He has an all-star company with him as well, Reverend Al Sharpton, Cornell West, Reverend Jesse Jackson Jr. and Spike Lee. And tonight they're taking a look at the issues that affect African-Americans and will be affecting them over the next few years.
Across the mall, the museum, CNN's senior political analyst, David Gergen is joining us as well. The former presidential adviser sizes up the enormous tasks that Barack Obama has before him. Now, tomorrow, Barack Obama will be sworn in as the first African-American president of the United States and when it happens, when he says, "so help me God," many people say it will be Dr. King's dream come true.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): It is remarkable timing. On the day before the first black president is sworn in, the nation is honoring another African-American leader who captured the attention of the world. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because I have a dream today!
O'BRIEN: On the mall, much like they did 46 years ago, people who want to be part of something bigger than themselves are already gathering.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Today, it's almost without words.
O'BRIEN: President-elect Obama arrived for the inaugural on a train, part of a continuing nod to Abraham Lincoln, a president who took office during a time of segregation and war and managed to unite the country. It was in Lincoln's shadow in 1963 that Martin Luther King Jr. preached his dream for unity and inclusion. The bulk of his speech, called "normalcy never again" but remembered forever as "I have a dream," focused on economic empowerment and opportunities that had been denied to blacks.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: If Dr. King had stood on the Lincoln Memorial and said, y'all go home, we can't overcome, there's no such thing as false hopes.
O'BRIEN: Forty years after the King assassination, the junior senator from Illinois grabbed both King's mantel and his message, America's promise and its ability to change.
OBAMA: Generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people -- yes, we can. Yes, we can.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.
O'BRIEN: The Declaration of Independence, the document that declares all men are created equal was signed in 1776 in Philadelphia, a city where today about half of young black men don't graduate from high school. It's also the city where Obama made a speech on race, again echoing Dr. King.
OBAMA: Working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds and that in fact we have no choice.
O'BRIEN: On the mall, people stream in to honor Dr. King's legacy and to witness the inauguration of a man who will be America's first black president, the physical embodiment of many of Dr. King's hopes and aspirations.
O'BRIEN: And along with those hopes and aspirations, there are, of course, extreme challenges for Barack Obama and expectations too as he is about to make history. Obama may also be feeling the weight of history, especially where it concerns Dr. King's legacy and Dr. King's dream.
Let's head right now to Howard University where CNN's Roland Martin is taking part in an important and very timely event. Roland, tell us what you're doing.
ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Soledad, I'm on the campus of Howard University, a cramped auditorium, a packed house here.
MARTIN: They've had a day long of activities. Spike Lee (INAUDIBLE) involved in this (INAUDIBLE) dealing with the economy, education. This is dealing with refreshing -- the theme has been refresh, the world symposium. And we're talking about refreshing the world in the age of Obama.
We have Tara Wall, CNN contributor, Dr. Cornell West, Harvard University, Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr., Donna Brazile, CNN contributor, Amy Holmes, CNN contributor and the Reverend Al Sharpton.
MARTIN: We are obviously celebrating the national holiday of Dr. King...
MARTIN: ... this whole issue of service, but one of the things that folks have been talking about is what will an Obama presidency mean specifically for African-Americans? Is there...
MARTIN: ... that you want to see him focus on that affects African-Americans specifically? Reverend Sharpton?
REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: Equal protection under the law.
SHARPTON: I think that a central challenge in our community is to have a president that will protect us equally, that will not have us go to jail longer for the same crimes, have us treated differently in the courts, and not subjected to police misconduct. We've seen since the election of Obama Oakland explode, we need a Justice Department that acts fairly, because the experience of many African- Americans, whether you're Republican, Democrat, rich, poor, skinny, fat, light, dark is that we are treated differently in the criminal justice system.
SHARPTON: We need -- criminal justice system for everybody.
MARTIN: Tara Wall, a question for you, is the fundamental issue of African-Americans just like that of every...
MARTIN: ... this economy that is happening in terms of the jobs and employment?
TARA WALL, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Certainly. And I said that I would ask your first question with an economic question. And that is, you know, the challenge for us -- for all of us is he going to keep our taxes low. Is he going to allow us to make sure we have more money in our pockets to take home at the end of the day without penalizing success?
The economy is the biggest issue at this moment. And I think that you have to have a balance in the way we go about dealing with the economy as it relates to the bailouts, too much government spending, not enough government transparency, and not enough cutting of spending. I think those need to be the focuses going forward and that affects every community including the black community.
MARTIN: Just a few moments ago, Dr. West, we talked about this whole issue of this post-racial world. For you, you say that troubles you when you keep hearing that kind of language, how we've transcended in this whole post-racial world. Speak to that please in the age of Obama on the brink of being inaugurated as the 44th president.
CORNELL WEST, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: (INAUDIBLE) crucial dimension among Dr. King Jr. legacy in the age of Obama, and Martin Luther King Jr. didn't want us to be color blind, he wanted us to be love struck. He wanted us to embrace our humanity and to do it in such a way that we focus on poor people, focus on working people, on the precious children, on the disabled, on the elderly, on the widows, those who are often pushed to the margins, not just here but in Asia, in the Middle East, in Latin America.
This is an interdependent world that we live in. And now that we've got a black face in a high place, head of the American Democratic project and also the face of the American empire, the question is, can we meet the challenge of Sly Stone (ph)? Can we focus on everyday people?
MARTIN: Reverend Jackson, with that point, we've rarely heard about everyday people in the campaign. I can't -- I probably can count on two fingers every time we've heard poor come up and poverty in all of those debates.
REV. JESSE JACKSON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Well that's why the stimulus must get to the roots, not just to the leaves. We must now -- Dr. King's last agenda item, a multiracial coalition, the impoverty (ph) at home and in war abroad. That begins to give us a relief of tensions in the world.
When President Obama goes into his office tomorrow afternoon, he'll have to deal with stimulus. But that stimulus must be targeted to the most vulnerable people and not recycle their poverty. The good news is, that's not a black exclusive issue. Most poor Americans are not black. They're white, they're female, and they're young.
Whether white, black, brown, (INAUDIBLE) poor children today get five free meals a week in school and (INAUDIBLE) meals a week in jail. Somehow, the stimulus must come bottom up not top down, not only in the war in the Middle East, which he's making a priority, and Afghanistan (INAUDIBLE) but also include in that Zimbabwe and Haiti as well. That becomes global...
MARTIN: Real quick, Donna Brazile, I want to get to Amy, don't have much time, real quick.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I hope that Barack Obama inspires this new generation to serve the way that Dr. King inspired his generation to serve.
AMY HOLMES, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think we can't have the discussion if we don't talk about education. And I believe education is a civil rights issue.
HOLMES: And I hope that Barack Obama -- we talked about on the way over, he's working with Mayor Fenty (ph) here in Washington, D.C. We need more African-Americans graduating from high school, graduating from college, becoming lawyers...
MARTIN: Absolutely right. Amy Holmes, panel, hold tight one second. I'm going to toss it back to Soledad. We're going to come back to our panel in about 20 or so minutes with the answer to the question, what's next for this generation -- Soledad, back to you.
O'BRIEN: All right, Roland, thanks. We're going to have more from Roland, as he mentioned, just ahead. Taking the oath of office might just be the easy part. Next comes here the hard part. What's next for Obama and what is next for the nation? We'll take a look at some of the extreme challenges that face not only him but face all of us.
And then later, a cinematic celebration, director Antwan Puckwa (ph) honors Obama and King with a stirring film he made especially for CNN. Here's a little preview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The debt that we all owe to those who marched for us and fought for us and stood up on our behalf, the sacrifices that were made for us by those we never knew and the giants whose shoulders I stand on here today. (END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a dream that one day down in Alabama with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words (INAUDIBLE) one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today!
OBAMA: Instead of having politics that's lives up -- living up to Dr. King's call for unity, we've had a politics that's used race to drive us apart. When all this does is feed the forces of division and distraction and stop us from solving our problems.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Martin Luther King's dream, as you just heard, was one of an America in which children could be brothers and sisters, whatever the color of their skin. And yet as you also just heard, 40 years after Dr. King's assassination, Barack Obama, soon to be the country's first African-American president still felt moved to say that politically, here in America, race has been used to drive us apart.
So just how far have we come? Consider this result from a recent CNN/Opinion Research poll. Those asked whether the election of Barack Obama was a dream come true, 89 percent of blacks said, yes, it was, 71 percent of whites said that for them, no, it was not. We're joined by now by David Gergen; he's at the museum at CNN's Washington bureau, Clarence Jones and here with me right now out in the cold on the mall is Farai Chideya, a journalist to talk about a subject that is a thorny one, race and politics. It's nice to have you all and David, let's start with you.
You know it was interesting to read in "The Washington Post", a couple of days ago, they talked about how Washington would change. People couldn't have all-white parties anymore because there was a black president. And that meant everything in D.C. was going to change. What, realistically, what, literally, do you think changes in Washington, D.C., now that Obama's in office?
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, one thing that changes right tomorrow and that is we've had mostly white inaugurations in the past. This is not going to be one. This is going to be a -- just on the streets of Washington now, you sees whites, of course, but you see so many more blacks than we've ever had here before. And you see so many more Asians and international folks. It is a -- this is a -- Jesse Jackson would have called it the Rainbow coalition that has come here. But I think there's -- even in the sense of with a sense of hope and optimism, there's also a sense that we've still got a long way to go. This is a time for celebration, not for self-congratulation. You know, we still have an America where the black unemployment rate is twice that of whites.
The black infant mortality rate is twice that of whites. Black women are incarcerated at three and a half times that of white women. One in nine young black Americans between the ages of 20 and 34 is in jail or prison. Today there are more young black Americans males in jails than there are in college. So we have a long, long way to go, Soledad.
O'BRIEN: Farai, you have said in the past, the question of whether the nation is ready for a black president was really more like was the nation ready for this black president in these times. What do you mean by those specific words?
FARAI CHIDEYA, FORMER HOST, NPR "NEWS AND NOTES": It's not as if every black person is the same. And in many ways, that's been the narrative of this entire election, which is to see the individuality, like with the special that you did, that we are all of many different types. And the type that Mr. Obama is intentional. He is a planner.
This man has been ready not just since day one, for day one, he was ready way beforehand. And I think something that people have often thought is, well, is it by accident that this handsome young guy stumbled into power. Absolutely not. It's very clear through his books and other aspects of what he's done that he is the architect of his own destiny.
O'BRIEN: Well, he was ambitious, but at the same time doesn't society -- I'll throw this to Clarence Jones, because you, sir, as a close associate of Dr. King, I mean doesn't society also have to be ready. It can't sort of just be just one side ready, but the other side not ready.
CLARENCE JONES, ADVISER, FRIEND OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: Well there's no question about that, is that one of the great contributions of Dr. King is that he you know literally transformed the, you know, America during the 20th century. And that with all due respect to you know Obama's extraordinary talents and capabilities, nevertheless, it took someone of the stature and the leadership of Dr. King to literally transform America by forcing America to, you know, confront its conscience between the contradiction of the practices of racism and segregation and the reality -- I'm sorry -- no, the reality of the practices of segregation and what was enshrined in our declaration of independence, so that, yes, you know David Gergen ticked off a lot of things which are in fact characteristic of part of the black community today. We are at a point of celebration. And part of that celebration, of course, is the celebration of the pursuit of excellence. That's what Obama represents among other things.
O'BRIEN: You know...
JONES: November 4...
O'BRIEN: Let me ask the question.
JONES: I'm sorry.
O'BRIEN: Sorry. I want to bring David Gergen in and you referenced him. I want to bring him in because you know we...
O'BRIEN: Barack Obama was sort of forced to have a conversation on race, when there was all that crisis about Reverend Wright...
JONES: That's correct.
O'BRIEN: He had to get up and make a really quite remarkable, I thought, speech about race. But David, I'm curious to know where does that conversation go? I mean is he done? Is it OK, I've made my speech on race, it was a good one, I'm done, we don't talk about it anymore. Or what does he have to say next?
GERGEN: No, I -- I don't think by the way we should have to leave all of this to Barack Obama. It seems to me what he has done is encouraged us to now, through television, through other kinds of forums to have serious conversations among all Americans about race. I think the Obama election brought during the fall some of the most interesting conversations among white families about race within their own families.
I mean I had people come up to me, a white person come up to me and said, I never knew my brother-in-law was a racist. And it was because for the first time, people were talking openly and honestly. We need to do that more across races. This is -- and we ought to do that among ourselves. CNN can play a role in that. Not look to Barack Obama to do this alone. Will he come back and address the issue of race as he goes along, yes.
But I think it's important on an evening like this to remember that he and Dr. Martin Luther King, both heroic figures, one was a civil rights leader. Barack Obama has not been elected as a civil rights leader, but as president of all the people. Is civil rights -- is civil rights a critical part of that? Absolutely, but he has a broader set of responsibilities than Dr. King had. Dr. King brought us a long way. Barack Obama has to fill out more of the picture.
JONES: And if I may also say...
O'BRIEN: Go ahead, Clarence.
JONES: Yes. Dr. King, I think, what we should look at is the fact that he not only paved the way, but with someone with the extraordinary talents of a Barack Obama is that November 4th was just as much a celebration of Obama's talents as it was about the American experience. I think that November 4th is that every American could you know look -- look in the mirror and say, you know, we have something to celebrate.
Because what his election reflects is really the majesty of America. It reflects the confidence and the belief that Dr. King had in this country. He had an abiding belief in the good faith and genuinest (ph) and decency of Americans. And of course he had to use create...
JONES: Yes? I'm sorry.
CHIDEYA: Well Soledad -- no, no, thank you. I was just thinking that this is really -- part of this is about extending the collective memory of Americans. We're not known for our collective memory.
O'BRIEN: And today has been an opportunity, I think, to expand that memory a little bit.
O'BRIEN: Farai Chideya and Clarence Jones and David Gergen joining us, thanks so much. We're going to continue our talk with our panels tonight. The country on the verge of course of an amazing achievement, as much for all the rest of the country as it is for us, as it is for Barack Obama really, which makes this a perfect time to ask, what should the next great achievement be? What should we be aiming for?
We're going to put that question to some people who have been watching history happen in this country for a very long time, watching it happen here in Washington, D.C., on this remarkable day. And then we'll go back out among those Martin Luther King spoke for and to and about those who elected to be the man to be inaugurated tomorrow, in other word the people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: If we could just recognize ourselves and one another, bring everybody together, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Latino, Asian, and native Americans, black and white, gay and straight, disabled and not, then not only would we restore hope and opportunity in places that yearn for both, but maybe just maybe, we might perfect our union in the process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: From the Lincoln Memorial, that was Barack Obama yesterday with a call for unity. That theme has been a constant one for the president-elect. It was also one championed by Martin Luther King Jr., who 45 years ago stood on those very same steps addressing the nation and asking for tolerance and for change. And for Obama, the challenges are immense and immediate. Let's get back to CNN contributor, Roland Martin. Roland?
MARTIN: Thanks, Soledad. Welcome back to the campus on Howard University. I want to jump right into it. President-elect Obama on election night used the word "we" 47 times. He's been talking about what we have to do. Do you actually think that America will accept the challenge of sacrifice in saying that we have a role to change the direction of this country? Will they volunteer? Will they get involved? Or will they wait for governmental leaders to do it? Let's start with Donna Brazile.
BRAZILE: Yes, the American people are prepared to sacrifice. They are prepared for the enormous challenges and crisis. And one of the things that President-elect Obama has done over the last 77 days is that he has articulated to the American people what we must do together in order for us to turn our country around.
MARTIN: Reverend Sharpton?
SHARPTON: I think that the American people will make the sacrifice. I think people do what they're prepared to do and what the leaders set the tone to do. They were prepared to go beyond race in this election, not deny his race, but not let it stand in the way of their decision. They were prepared to do that in the Congress, in the midterm election. If you have a leader that says we need sacrifice, they're prepared for it. It's different when you have a leader that says mission accomplished and it's not over yet.
MARTIN: Tara Wall, must he use the bully pulpit to communicate that vision, continually to keep folks engaged?
WALL: Oh absolutely. And I think he will. I think you know this is an opportunity to help us reflect on self-responsibility and ask ourselves what we, individually, can do in a responsible way to propel this country forward in addition to the vision that he's laid out. But I think he definitely -- he's already started off -- gotten off to a great start in articulating what he wants to do in moving this country forward and I don't think that will stop.
HOLMES: I absolutely think that. And I think that it's in the American character that the American people are a generous, giving volunteering people. I worked for AmeriCorps and that agency is giving -- to make Martin Luther King Day a day of service, it's a day on, not a day off. You look at the Tokeville (ph) and his survey of the American character when he came all those low many years ago. That we're a community sense spirited people that's part of democracy, that's part of who we are.
MARTIN: Dr. West, you work on college campuses, you're around young folks all the time. Is this generation, black, white, Hispanic, take your pick, Asian, whatever. Are they ready to accept the challenge to step up and lead? Dr. King was 26 when he started. John Lewis, 18, 19 years old. Ella Baker (ph), so many others, they were young folk. Is this generation ready?
WEST: They are hungry. They are thirsty. But we tell our dear brother Barack Obama, out of love, be a thermostat, not a thermometer. A thermostat shapes the climate of opinion. A thermometer just reflects it. If you're not going to teach the people, take the time to point out what the situation is and say sacrifice for fairness, then you're just going to be a thermometer reflecting all the views that's out there. It's going to end up a mess.
You've got to be leading. That's what Martin was about. That's what you can learn from brother Martin Luther King Jr. And we'll be there to help brother Barack, but we're going to put some pressure on that brother too.
MARTIN: Soledad, we shared about this earlier that you have visionary leaders -- Leo Mile (ph) was one of those visionary leaders and when you read the Bible he had a revision to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. When you read the scripture, it said, the people have to agree, let us rebuild. He can accept the oath tomorrow, but the reality is, if the people don't accept the challenge, America will stay exactly the way it is now and that will be a shame in the 21st century.
O'BRIEN: A lot of work to do on that. All right, Roland, thanks a lot, and to your panel as well.
Up next, we'll talk to some of the people who have gathered here on the mall to witness history.
Later, the debut of an extraordinary film commissioned by CNN to commemorate a culmination unlike any other in American history. Stay with us.
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I have a dream that one day every mountain should be made, the rough places should be made plain and the crooked places should be made straight.
OBAMA: The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But America, I have never been more hopeful that I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you, we, as a people, will get there.
O'BRIEN: That's what Barack Obama said on the night that he was elected the 44th president of the United States. In very many important ways, tonight's events and tomorrow's inauguration belong to the people that came to Washington, D.C.; to be part of something that many of them actually still feel hard to believe is actually happening. Don Lemon is right behind me with the people that came a long ways to be witnesses to history. Hey Don.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Soledad. These are the reasons that Barack Obama is the president-elect, right? Why are you guys so quiet? These folks are here to celebrate. And they are ready to party. They're all excited. They've come from all over. It's not just Americans. It's people from Europe, from different countries. From where? Texas. That's here in the United States. Where are you from?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Raleigh, North Carolina.
LEMON: Africa, everywhere. We've seen people from New Zealand, Australia. Many have been here for weeks and weeks and weeks. Who wants to talk? Me! It's like the first day of class. Where are you from?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mexico.
LEMON: Do you live in Mexico now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I live in South Carolina.
LEMON: Obvious reasons you're here. Have you been touched or moved by anything specifically?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, yes, it's really very interesting to have this president and we're very -- I mean, he represents the Hispanic population of the United States too, so we're very happy.
LEMON: Diversity, inclusion, correct?
Where are you from?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Baltimore, Maryland.
LEMON: Oh, not very far. You took a train over here or walked.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know. It was a quick trip, but we wanted to be here. My cousin is her in the crowd with me and we wanted to be here.
LEMON: And it's cold.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's cold, but we don't care.
LEMON: What do you think when you see people from all over the world making this journey?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's incredible. It makes me feel so good.
LEMON: I said on Sunday night doing our coverage, we're going to find out; this is about pilgrimages from all over the world from people. All right. I want to thank you guys very much. We're going to get back to Soledad O'Brien. Soledad O'Brien our host of the show, first, we'll have quick messages.
OBAMA: There is not a liberal America and a conservative America; there is the United States of America! There is not a black America and a white America and a Latino America, an Asian America, there's the United States of America.
O'BRIEN: Remember that speech? That was from 2004. I want to show you some pictures now of Michelle Obama. She's hosting the kids' inaugural, we are the future concert tonight, just got started. Happening at the Verizon Center here in Washington, D.C. Her daughters, Malia and Sasha are there along with Dr. Jill Biden, Joe Biden's wife and Dr. Biden and their grandchildren. The crowd anxiously awaiting to see Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers, superstars take the stage. The concert is honoring military families. Going to bring a little more of it to you when Michelle Obama starts speaking. We're expecting her to address the crowds.
CNN's senior political analyst, David Gergen, is at the museum and he's joined by Faye Wattleton. Faye, I want to start with you. When you think historically about why people were here back in 1963, it really wasn't about the dream, it was about financial, economic empowerment and equality. And I think sometimes, that message is forgotten. Come Wednesday, the day after Barack Obama is inaugurated, a lot will not change for people. People who are impoverished remain impoverished, people in bad schools remain in bad schools. People on their way to prison remain on their way to prison. A lot doesn't change. What do you think the next focus has to be that can move the ball?
FAYE WATTLETON, PRES., CTR. FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN: Well, you know, I think it's really sort of interesting that Mr. Obama has been elected at a time when the country is facing enormous economic challenges. And it really was at the end of Dr. King's life that he was beginning to move the civil rights movement toward addressing the enormity of economic inequality. So I think that this is a time for Mr. Obama, the country is going through a very, very difficult challenge and a crisis and the American people are looking for him to provide the leadership.
The most recent poll said that Americans are very clear that the problems are very deep, very complex. But also, we have patience. And that is a wonderful sign that we've grown up a bit as a country. That we're maturing, to understand that these problems don't get solved overnight, that it takes a little bit of time and he'll have a tremendous ground swell of goodwill on which he can build to address these complicated problems.
O'BRIEN: It's a ground swell of goodwill, but David, yourself a realist more than anybody else I know. At some point in Washington, D.C., that goodwill can end. He wants to be transformative. He also talks about and people talking about Martin Luther King being transformative. You can't be transformative just by being the first black president. That's not quite enough, am I right?
GERGEN: That's absolutely right. First of all, I want to say what a pleasure it is to be here with Faye. She's been such a pioneer for human rights. Soledad, on Wednesday, he can start making a difference. Not only on moving I head on his economics program, not only in making new decisions about Iraq, but very importantly on Wednesday, he's going to open a new office of social innovation in the white house. Never had it before and it's all about national service. Michelle Obama is taking a very strong personal interest in this, and it's going to be enlist, you know, hundreds of thousands of Americans to serve others in ways we have never fully realized before.
Roland Martin earlier asked, are young people ready to serve? Are they willing to sacrifice? All over America now, young people are already volunteering, teach for America, it has an overwhelming number of applications this year. Sitting here, you can go through the groups, there are lots and lots of white and black Americans who want to work with each other and they will answer the call that comes from Barack Obama on serving others. And that will start Wednesday.
WATTLETON: And I think I'm -- I've been very interested that my daughter's generation and her friends say, we're going to help him to realize the dream. I've never heard that before after an election. That we were responsible for getting him elected. Now we have to help him to solve the problems of the country. And one thing that Mr. Obama is already demonstrating, that he is going to go to the people. He's going to use that bully pulpit. He's going to go to the people and explain the issues and continue to generate the momentum so that congress, the representatives of the people will have to be responsive. He's going to call attention to what he needs to do to get the job done. That's a little different than what we've seen in the past.
O'BRIEN: Faye Wattleton and David Gergen for me tonight. Thanks, guys. Appreciate it.
Ahead tonight, the power of the first family. We're still waiting to see Michelle Obama. We'll bring that to you live when it happens.
Then the question, can the Obamas change the way we live and what kind of effect will they have on African-Americans and the view of African-Americans, coming up next.
Plus, a film that celebrates today and tomorrow. That's all ahead.
O'BRIEN: As if he didn't already have enough on his shoulders, there is yet another constituency that seems to be looking for Barack Obama's greater understanding and empathy. We're talking about women of America. After all, the president to be is the father of two girls. Here's a little bit of what he wrote in a letter published to "Parade" magazine and it was to his daughters. This is what he wrote. "These are the things I want for you. To grow up in a world with no limits on your dreams and no achievements beyond your reach and to grow into compassionate, committed women that will help build that world. I want every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you girls have." The Obama era includes the first daughters and of course the first lady, Michelle Obama. Joined to talk a little more about this, Don Lemon who joins me right here. Also, Mary Frances Berry and Clayborn Carson. Nice to have you all with me.
Mary, I'm going to start with you if I may. We've been talking a little bit about the legacy of Martin Luther King and sort of ignoring the legacy of Coretta Scott King. Do you think to some degree that she is a role model for someone who's coming in as a first lady?
MARY FRANCES BERRY, FORMER U.S. CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSIONER: Absolutely. Coretta was always supportive. She was educated and respected herself. She was respected by her husband and she respected him. And once she was assassinated, she would the barn high for his legacy throughout her life and was always a respectable, committed person and was always a lady too. So I think that she set a good example also.
And I think that Michelle -- may I just say this about Michelle Obama? The most important thing is going to be how she behaves and people now see the two of them together. And I've been talking to young women and men who talk about how they respect each other and how they want to feel that way about the person that they marry.
And then the last thing I want to make sure I get in, the biggest impact on men so far has been my barber tells me all the young black men are getting Obama haircuts. They're Caesar haircuts, he says, but they call them Obama haircuts. Maybe they'll get more than the haircut.
LEMON: It's true. It's true. It's absolutely true.
O'BRIEN: So having an impact across the board. Mary said something very interesting. Which was sort of that role model role about a couple -- an African-American couple kind of an impact will that have not just on African-Americans who watch them on TV and all the public events, but also the entire nation's vision and view of African-Americans?
CLAYBORN CARSON, MLK JR. RESEARCH & ED. INST.: Well, I think it should have a tremendous impact because, you know, we haven't had a family like that in such a prominent role. You know, I think the only thing comparable would be the fictional family, the Huxtables. At that time people were criticizing that show because it didn't fit reality, that there were --
O'BRIEN: The reality that they knew.
CARSON: Didn't fit the reality of the kind of success that most people imagined for black Americans. And now we have, obviously, this reality that will be on television every day.
O'BRIEN: Don, you hosted a special called "Daughters of Legacy." And you talked to the daughters of icons, really, leaders. What did they tell you that -- about sacrifice, that you think might be relevant to Malia and Sasha as they come in? Because it's hard to share your dad with the world. That cannot be an easy role.
LEMON: It absolutely isn't. You know, when you think about the king children especially, especially the king children, if you want to look at it in the perspective and give Malia and Sasha advice, they have to make the sacrifice of sharing their father with the world and also their dad not being there a lot and being a home a lot. When he was there, they had to make the most of their time. You know, when I talked to Bernice King this past summer and all of last year, sometime last year about that issue, she said that -- those were the biggest sacrifices. And we did talk about Sasha and Malia. If it did get to this point what they would have to do, and that sacrifice is sharing your father with the world, being patient and in some ways being a little frustrated about having to share him.
O'BRIEN: Here's a little bit of what Barack Obama said on father's day last year. He delivered this speech. And some people criticized the speech, actually. But listen to a little bit about what he said about fathers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: If we're honest with ourselves, we'll admit that too many fathers are also missing. Too many fathers are M.I.A. too many fathers are AWOL. Missing from too many lives and too many homes. They've abandoned their responsibilities. They're acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families have suffered because of it. You and I know this is true everywhere, but nowhere is it more true than in the African-American community.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: He had said, Clayborn, that he wants to be transformative. Is this a realm in which it can be?
CARSON: I think so. I think, again, it's going to be a new experience for most Americans to see a very successful, two professional people raising a family, as it happens to be the white house. You were mentioning earlier about the children. I think for the first time in the last two years, they'll see daddy home every day, just about, unless he's off on a trip. So I think it will be much more normal. You know, I think that they should look forward to that.
O'BRIEN: Don, what challenges will there be --
BERRY: Soledad, if I may get in there, please, I know I'm not down on the mall, but let me just say about the fatherhood thing.
O'BRIEN: We would never forget you, Mary. Even though we're all freezing, we would never forget you.
BERRY: Please don't. The statements he made about fatherhood have been made by other people who are icons and who are well known. Jesse Jackson talked about it, Bill Cosby famously, a short time ago, talked about it. And there was a big debate about whether he was right or not. It's important that Obama says it from the highest platform in the world. But it's also important that Obama can be looked to do something about the social and economic problems that some of those fathers have and something about the crisis over drugs and other things in our community so that our fathers can fulfill the promise that is out there and do what he's saying that they should do. And that's important for all of our families.
O'BRIEN: Maybe a combination --
LEMON: Two seconds.
O'BRIEN: -- maybe a combination of both policy and information.
O'BRIEN: Don Lemon, Clayborn Carson and Mary Frances Berry.
LEMON: She's absolutely right because coming from Barack Obama, it really means a lot more than anyone else in the world saying that especially to black men. I had to make that point.
O'BRIEN: All right. Let's check in with Campbell Brown. She's got a preview of what's coming up at the top of the hour --Campbell?
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey there, Soledad.
Barack Obama out on the town right now moving between bipartisan dinners honoring men like John McCain and Colin Powell. At the top of the hour, we'll have the latest information about the first things that the president-elect is likely to do once he is sworn in as president. Some of it actually may be controversial. We'll talk about that.
We've also got a viewer's guide to the moments you absolutely won't want to miss tomorrow.
And a "NO BIAS, NO BULL" look at what kind of first lady Michelle Obama may be. All next in a special "NO BIAS, NO BULL" from Washington -- Soledad?
O'BRIEN: All right. Campbell, thanks.
Still to come on this eve of a very unique day in history Antoine Fugua, an extraordinary filmmaker, captures for CNN the promise of poetry and solemnity of an event of electing an African-American president.
O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Something very powerful we'd like to share with you tonight. CNN asked Antoine Fuqua, the acclaimed director to create a short film for us and call it "From MLK to Today." Fuqua said he never imagined he would see the day that the country would elect an African-American president. And so he put his thoughts and his creativity into an incredibly moving film we'd like you to watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was but 26 years old when he led a bus boycott to Montgomery to mobilize the movement. A powerful reminder of the debt that we all owe to those who marched forth and fought for us and stood up on our behalf. The fact sacrifices were made by those we never knew, those giants whose shoulders we stand on here today. It is that American spirit, that American promise that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain, that binds us together in spite of our differences that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen but what is unseen, that better place around the bend. A promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west, a promise that led workers to picket lines and women to reach for the bell. It is that promise that 45 years ago today brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a mall in Washington before Lincoln's Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of being free, the men and women who gathered there could have heard many things. They could have heard words of anger and discourse. They could have called to succumb, to the fear and frustration of so many dreams deferred, But what the people (INAUDIBLE), people of every creed and color, from every walk of life is that in America, our destiny is (INAUDIBLE). That together our dreams our dreams can be one. God bless you and may God Bless the United States of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)