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Live Coverage of the March on Washington Anniversary Ceremony

Aired August 28, 2013 - 14:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: And then, of course, President Barack Obama.

Plus, civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis, the only surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington will deliver his remarks.

First, though, we'll hear from superstar Oprah Winfrey. Oprah is scheduled to speak any minute now.

And over my shoulder, as we listen to BeBe Winans, we wait for Oprah Winfrey and others to take to the podium, and they will begin to speak.

Joining me here in Washington is my colleague Wolf Blitzer.

Wolf, of course, you know Washington very well. You have covered Washington for decades. What does today mean for you and for the nation's capital?

WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": It means a great deal. It means so much because all of us who have lived through this -- these 50 years remember what it was like then, remember what we've gone through over these so many years. And we know, of course, what it's like right now.

And, you know, Don, it's very, very fascinating that at a sensitive moment like this, when the president of the United States getting ready to deliver his important remarks commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech, he is right now also so preoccupied with the number one challenge facing any commander in chief, whether or not to go to war. In effect, the president has to decide very soon whether he is going to launch airstrikes, missile strikes, against targets in Syria. I know he's been preoccupied with that huge decision he has to make. We're going to have full analysis of that coming up. Certainly that decision, Don, is hovering over the president right now.

And if you think about Dr. Martin Luther King, shortly after that speech 50 years ago, in the years that followed before his tragic assassination, he became, among other things, one of the pre-eminent opponents of the U.S. war in Vietnam during those years. And a lot of us are remembering what was going on then, what's going on now. We're going to have full analysis. Gloria Borger is here with me here in our CNN studio. So we've got a lot to dissect as we await the president and two other presidents and Oprah, among others.

LEMON: All right, Wolf, we'll get back to you. Thank you very much. And, Wolf, I want to say as well, President Barack Obama, what helped him come to prominence is that he was against the war, a war over in Iraq. So there are similarities to these two gentlemen and we'll talk -- we're going to talk about them, report on them throughout the day here on CNN.

You know, our nation has seen huge changes since 1963. You know, Dr. King is the only non-president to have a national holiday in his honor. The only non-president, the only non-president to be memorialized on Washington's National Mall. And when Dr. King's memorial opened just two years ago, the nation's first African- American president, well, he was there. He was watching. Joining me now here in Washington is Van Jones. He is the host of CNN's new "Crossfire." The return of "Crossfire." And, of course, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

Thank you both for joining us.

Van, you're sitting here, two African-American men, as we are sitting here.


LEMON: I was telling one of our other anchors on CNN International, as I walked in this morning -


LEMON: I walked in with Al Roker, who is a prominent national figure here, an anchorman here.


LEMON: I walked in with Byron Pitts (ph), who is also -- I walked in with you. I walked in with Joe Johns.


LEMON: And on and on. Is this a fulfilling of Dr. King's dream to have these African-Americans in positions, visible positions here in the country?

JONES: It is. I don't think its - you know, the war seems far away. The troubles seem far away. There's something sacred happening here. You're seeing these elderly African-Americans. There was somebody -- when the rain started coming down, I saw an old black woman - somebody tried to give her an umbrella. She goes, we faced the fire hose. We can deal with the rain.

LEMON: We don't need this (INAUDIBLE).

JONES: And then tears came down for me to think about -

LEMON: Right.

JONES: Fifty years ago, even Dr. King couldn't drink from a water fountain.

LEMON: Right.

JONES: I mean you can't -- I don't think you can get your mind wrapped around -

LEMON: Right.

JONES: What this means for people -- my mother grew up in segregation. My father grew up in segregation. This is not 1,000 years ago. And so I think it's important for us to keep in mind that, yes, there's trouble in the world today, but there's something beautiful happening in the capital when a man like Dr. King can be honored (INAUDIBLE).

LEMON: Right.

When I think about - when we talk about - and it's very loud here, by the way. BeBe Winans is really tearing it up on stage. And we've heard a lot of Shirley Ceasar. Amazing performances here, which we'll review a little bit later on. We'll listen in quickly and then I'll talk more with Van Jones. Let's listen.

BEBE WINANS: I want (INAUDIBLE) at the National Mall will help us sing "amen." Hallelujah. Come on and just wave your hand in the atmosphere today. Come on sing it (INAUDIBLE). Sing amen. Hallelujah. Thank you.

LEMON: Beautiful performances. Beautiful performances.

And you were talking about the significance, Van, that you -- I thought it was very important that you said you offered this little old lady, you know, your umbrella and she said, we don't need that, baby.


LEMON: And I've been saying to people as well, when people start to complain about small things, I say, you know what, my mom walked to school when there were buses -- school buses that were passing her up.


LEMON: We'll talk about that. We'll talk about that. We're going to get to Oprah.

OPRAH WINFREY: Hello, everybody. I am absolutely thrilled to be here. I was nine years old when the march was occurring, and I asked my mama, can I go to the march? Took me 50 years, but I'm here.

On this date, in this place, at this time 50 years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King shared his dream for America with America. Dr. King was the passionate voice that awakened the conscience of a nation and inspired people all over the world. The power of his words resonated because they were spoken out of an unwavering belief in freedom and justice, equality and opportunity for all. Let freedom ring was Dr. King's closing call for a better and more just America. So today people from all walks of life will gather at 3:00 p.m. for bell ringing events across our great country and around the world as we reaffirm our commitment to Dr. King's ideals.

Dr. King believed that our destinies are all intertwined. And he knew that our hopes and our dreams are really all the same. He challenged us to see how we all are more alike than we are different. So as the bells of freedom ring today, we are hoping that it's a time for all of us to reflect on not only the progress that has been made, and we've made a lot, but on what we have accomplished, and also on the work that still remains before us. It's an opportunity today to recall where we once were in this nation and to think about that young man who at 34 years old stood up here and was able to force an entire country to wake up, to look at itself and to eventually change.

And as we, the people, continue to honor the dream of a man and a movement, a man who in his short life saw suffering and injustice and refused to look the other way, we can be inspired, and we, too, can be courageous by continuing to walk in the footsteps of the path that he forged. He's the one who reminded us that we will never walk alone. He was, after all, a drum major for justice. So as the bells toll today, let us reflect on the bravery. Let us reflect on the sacrifice of those who stood up for freedom, who stood up for us, whose shoulders we now stand on.

And as the bells toll today at 3:00, let us ask ourselves, how will the dream live on in me, in you, in all of us? As the bells toll, let us remind ourselves, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. As the bells toll, we commit to a life of service because Dr. King, one of my favorite quotes from him is, not everybody can be famous, but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service. So we ask ourselves, what are we doing for others to lift others up? And as the bells toll, we must recommit to that the love that abides and connects each us to shine through and let freedom ring.

LEMON: That was Oprah Winfrey giving a very moving speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. We're going to take a quick break and come back with two former presidents and President Barack Obama.


LEMON: All right, we're back now live on the mall in Washington. You can see the presidents now coming down the steps. First, President Carter will descend the steps, and then President Clinton will. And then, of course, John Lewis will come, who is a congressman from Georgia, who is the only living person who spoke on that day, and then President Barack Obama. And there is the president and the first lady, everyone, descending the steps to thunderous applause.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: What a marvelous sight.

LEMON: What an amazing day.

LEE: It's amazing.

LEMON: And there you see President Clinton, President Carter, following the president and the first lady.


LEE: Wow.

LEMON: And here next to me - no, that's OK. Van Jones is saying, "wow."

JONES: Lovely.

LEMON: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee saying, "wow."

LEE: Wow.

LEMON: What are the wows for?

LEE: This is a spiritual moment. It -


LEE: I'm sitting next to Van. I know his history. It's a spiritual moment. Right before they came on, they sang the song "you are the source of my strength." This is what has carried us this far.

LEMON: We're going to listen now to the National Anthem.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light, what so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALES (singing): Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight, o'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming? And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there. O, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, John Lewis.

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: President and Mrs. Obama, President Clinton, President Carter, I want to thank Bernice King, the King family, and the National Park Service for inviting me here to speak today.

When I look out over this diverse crowd and survey the guests on this platform, it seem to realize what Otis Redding sang about, and what Martin Luther King Jr. preached about. This moment in our history has been a long time coming, but the change has come. We are standing here in the shadow of Abraham Lincoln 150 years after he issued the Emancipation Proclamation and only 50 years after the historic March on Washington for jobs and freedom.

We have come a great distance in this country in the 50 years, but we still have a great distance to go before we fulfill the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. Sometime I hear people saying, nothing has changed. But for someone to grow up the way I grew up in the cotton fields of Alabama, to now be serving in the United States Congress, makes me want to tell them, come and walk in my shoes. Come walk in the shoes of those that were attacked by police dogs, fire hoses and night sticks, arrested and taken to jail.

I first came to Washington in the same year that President Barack Obama was born to participate in a freedom ride. In 1961, black and white people could not be seated together on a Greyhound bus. So we decided to take an integrated fashion ride from here to New Orleans. But we never made it there. All the 400 of us were arrested and jailed in Mississippi during the freedom ride. A bus was set on fire in Anderson, Alabama. We were beaten and arrested and jailed. But we helped bring an end to segregation in public transportation.

I came back here again in June of 1963 with the big six as the new chairman of the student nonviolent coordinating committee. We met with President Kennedy, who said the fires of frustration were burning throughout America.

In 1963, we could not (ph) (INAUDIBLE) to vote simply because of the color of our skin. We had to pay a poll tax, pass a so-called literacy test, count the number of bubbles in a bar of soap or the number of jelly beans in a jar. Hundreds and thousands of people were arrested and jailed throughout the south for trying to participate in the democratic process. (INAUDIBLE) have been killed in Mississippi and that's why we told President Kennedy we intended to march on Washington to demonstrate the need for equal justice and equal opportunity in America.

On August 28, 1963, the nation's capital was in a state of emergency. Thousands of troops surrounded the city. (INAUDIBLE) was told to stay home that day. Liquor stores were closed. But the march was so orderly, so peaceful. It was filled with dignity and self-respect. Because we believe in the way of peace, the way of love, the way of non-violence. People came that day to that march dressed like they were on their way to a religious service. As for Haley Jackson (ph) say, how we got over, how we got over? (INAUDIBLE) drew thousands of us together in a strange sense, it seemed like the whole place started (ph) rocking. We truly believe that in every human being, even those who were violent toward us, there was a spark of the divine.

And no person had the right to scar or destroy that spark. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us the way of peace, the way of love, the way of nonviolence. He taught us to have the power to forgive, the capacity to be reconciled. He taught us to stand up, to speak up, to speak out, to find a way to get in the way.

People inspired by that vision of justice and equality, and they were willing to put their bodies on the line for a greater cause, greater than themselves. Not one incident of violence was reported that day. A spirit had engulfed the leadership of the movement and all of its participants. The spirit of Dr. King's words captured the hearts of people not just around America, but around the world.

On that day, Martin Luther King Jr. made a speech, but he also delivered a sermon. He transformed these marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial into a modern day pulpit. He changed us forever.

After the ceremony was over, President Kennedy invited us back down to the White House. He met us, standing in the door of the Oval Office, and he was beaming like a proud father. As he shook the hand of each one of us, he said, you did a good job. You did a good job. And he said to Dr. King, and you had a dream.

Fifty years later, we can ride anywhere we want to ride, we can stay where we want to stay. Those signs that said white and colored are gone. And you won't see them anymore. A step in a museum, in a book, on a video. But there are still invisible signs, barriers in the hearts of human kind that form a gulf (ph) between us. Too many of us still believe our differences define us instead of the divine spark that runs through all of human creation.

The scars and stains of racism still remain deeply imbedded in American society. Where (ph) they do (ph) stop and frisk in New York, or injustice in the Trayvon Martin case in Florida. The mass incarceration of millions of Americans, immigrants hiding in fear in the shadow of our society, unemployment, homelessness, poverty, hunger, or the renewed struggle for golden (ph) rights. So I say to each one of us today, we must never, ever give up. We must never, ever give in. We must keep the faith and keep our eyes on the prize.

We did go to jail, but we got the Civil Rights Act. We got a Voting Rights Act. We got a Fair Housing Act. But we must continue to push. We must continue to work, as the late Asa Philip Randolph said to organizer for the march in 1963, and the dean of the civil rights movement once said, we may have come here on different ships, but we all are in the same boat now. So it doesn't matter whether we're black or white, Latino, Asian-American or Native American, whether we are gay or straight, we are one people, we are one family, we are all living in the same house. Not just an American house, but the world house. And when we finally accept these truths, then we will be able to pull Dr. King's dream to build a beloved community, a nation and a world at peace with itself.

Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please welcome the 39th president of the United States, Jimmy Carter.

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Well, I'm greatly honored to be here. And I realize that most people know that it's highly unlikely that any of us three over on my right would have served in the White House or be on this platform had it not been for Martin Luther King Jr. and his movement and his crusade for civil rights. So we are grateful to him for us being here.

I'm also proud that I came from the same part of the south as he did. He never lost contact with the folks back home and was helping Tennessee garbage workers, as you know, when he gave his life to a racist bullet.

I remember how it was back in those days. I left Georgia in 1943 for college and the Navy. And when I came home from a submarine duty, I was put on the board of education. I suggested to the other members that we visit all the schools in the county. They had never done this before and they were reluctant to go with me. But we finally did it. And we found that white children had three nice brick buildings, but the African-American children had 26 different elementary schools in the county. They were in churches, in front living rooms, and a few were in barns. They had so many because there were no school buses for African-American children. And they had to be within walking distance of where they went to class. Their school books were out dated and worn out and every one of them had a white child's name in the front of the book. We finally obtained some buses. And then the state legislature ordained that the front fenders be painted black. Not even the school buses could be equal to each other.

One of the finest moments of my life was 10 months after Dr. King's famous speech right here, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. I was really grateful when the King family adopted me as their presidential candidate in 1976. Every handshake from Dr. King, from Daddy King, every hug from Coretta, got me a million Yankee votes. Daddy (ph) King prayed at the Democratic Convention. For quite a while, I might say. And Coretta was in the hotel room with me and Roselyn when I was elected president.

My presidential battle (ph) freedom citation to Coretta (INAUDIBLE) Dr. King said, and I quote, "he gazed at the great wall of segregation and saw that the power of love could bring it down. He made our nation stronger because he made it better."

We were able to create a national historic site where Dr. King lived, worked and worshipped. It's next door to the Carter Center, linked together just by a walking path. And at the Carter Center we try to make there's principles that we follow, the same as his, emphasizing peace and human rights.

I remember that Daddy (ph) King said, too many people think Martin freed only black people. In truth, he helped to free all people.

And Daddy (ph) King added, it's not enough to have a right to sit at a lunch counter if you can't afford to buy a meal. And he also said, the ghetto still looks the same, even from the front seat of a bus.

Perhaps the most challenging statement of Martin Luther King Jr. was, and I quote, "the crucial question of our time is how to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence." In a Nobel Prize ceremony of 2002, I said that my fellow Georgian was, and I quote again, "the greatest leader in my native state and perhaps my native country has ever produced." And I was not excluding presidents and even the founding fathers when I said this.

I believe we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to the new ID requirements to exclude certain voters, especially African-Americans. I think we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to the Supreme Court striking down a crucial part of the Voters Rights Act just recently passed overwhelmingly by Congress. I think we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to unemployment among African-Americans being almost twice the rate of white people and for teenagers at 42 percent. I think we would all know how Dr. King would have reacted to our country being awash in guns and for more and more states passing stand your ground laws.

I think we know how Dr. King would have reacted for people of the District of Columbia still not having full citizenship rights. And I think we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to have more than 835,000 African-American men in prison, five times as many as when I left office, and with one-third of all African-American males being destined to be in prison in their lifetimes. Well, there's a tremendous agenda ahead of us. And I'm thankful to Martin Luther King Jr. that his dream is still alive. Thank you.