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Live Coverage of March On Washington: 50th Anniversary

Aired August 28, 2013 - 14:30   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And now, please welcome the 42nd president of the United States, Bill Clinton.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Thank you. Mr. President, Mrs. Obama, President Carter, Vice President Biden, Dr. Biden, I want to thank my great friend, Reverend Bernice King and the King family for inviting me to be a part of this 50th observation of one of the most important days in American history.

Dr. King and A. Phillip Randolph, John Lewis, Bernard Ruston, Dorothy Height, Merly Evers, Daisy Bates and all the others who led this massive march knew what they were doing on this hallowed ground. In the shadow of Lincoln's Statue, the burning memory of the fact that he gave his life to preserve the union and end slavery, Martin Luther King urged his crowd not to drink from the cup of bitterness, but to reach across the racial divide because, he said, we cannot walk alone.

Their destiny is tied up with our destiny. Their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. He urged the victims of racial violence to meet white Americans with an outstretched hand, not a clenched fist. And in so doing, to prove the redeeming power of unearned suffering. And then he dreamed of an American where all citizens would sit together at the table of brotherhood, where little white boys and girls and little black boys and girls would hold hands across the color line, where his own children would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

This march and that speech changed America. They opened minds, they melted hearts and they moved millions, including a 17-year-old boy watching alone in his home in Arkansas. It was an empowering moment, but also an empowered moment. As the great chronicler of those years, Taylor Branch, wrote, the movement here gained the force to open, quote, the stubborn gates of freedom. And out flowed the civil rights act, the voting rights act, immigration reform, Medicare, Medicaid, open housing.

It is well to remember that the leaders and the foot soldiers here were both idealists and tough realists. They had to be. It was a violent time. Just three months later, we lost President Kennedy. And we thank god that President Johnson came in and fought for all those issues I just mentioned. Just five years later, we lost Senator Kennedy. And in between, there was the carnage of the fight for jobs, freedom and equality.

Just 18 days after this march, four little children were killed in the Birmingham Church bombing. Then there were the Ku Klux Klan murders. The Mississippi lynching and a dozen others until in 1968, Dr. King himself was martyred, still marching for jobs and freedom. What a debt we owe to those people who came here 50 years ago. The martyrs played it all for a dream.

A dream, as John Lewis said, that millions have now actually lived. So how are we going to repay the debt? Dr. King's dream of interdependence, his prescription of wholehearted cooperation across racial lines, they ring as true today as they did 50 years ago. Yes. We face terrible political gridlock now. Read a little history. It's nothing new. Yes, there remain racial inequalities in employment, income, health, wealth, incarceration, and in the victims and perpetrators of violent crime.

But we don't face beatings, lancings and shootings for our political beliefs anymore. And I would respectfully suggest that Martin Luther King did not live and die to hear his heirs crying about political gridlock. It is time to stop complaining and put our shoulders against the stubborn gates holding the American people back. We cannot be disheartened by the forces of resistance to building a modern economy of good jobs and rising income or to rebuilding our education system.

To give all our children a common core of knowledge necessary to ensure success or to give Americans of all ages access to affordable college and training programs, and we thank the president for his efforts in those regards. We cannot relax in our efforts to implement health care reform in a way that ends discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions. One of which is inadequate income to pay for rising health care, a health care reform that will lower costs and lengthen lives.

Nor can we stop investing in science and technology to train our young people of all races for the jobs of tomorrow and to act on what we learned about our bodies, our businesses, and our climate. We must push open those stubborn gates. We cannot be discouraged by a Supreme Court decision that said we don't need this critical provision in the voting rights act because, look at the states. It made it harder for African-Americans and Hispanics and students and the elderly and the infirmed and poor working folks to vote. What do you know?

They showed up, stood in line for hours and voted anyway. So obviously we don't need any kind of law. But a great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon. We must open those stubborn gates. And let us not forget that while racial divides persist and must not be denied, the whole American landscape is littered with the lost dreams and dashed hopes of people of all races. And the great irony of the current moment is that the future has never brimmed with more possibilities.

It has never burned brighter in what we could become. If we push open those stubborn gates and if we do it together, the choice remains as it was on that distant summer day 50 years ago. Cooperate and thrive or fight with each other and fall behind. We should all thank God for Dr. King and John Lewis and all those who gave us a dream to guide us.

A dream they've paid for like our founders with their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor and we thank them for reminding us that America is always becoming, always on a journey. And we all, every single citizen among us, have to run our lap. God bless them and God bless America.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: As they say, amen. That was Bill Clinton, of course, speaking before him, President Carter, John Lewis speaking as well, very moving. Not only the speeches, but they talked politics as well. As they say, let the church say amen. Joining me now is representative from Texas, Sheila Jackson Lee. We did go to church for a moment, didn't we?

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: We absolutely did. You know, I represent a poster child state that gave birth to Lyndon Baines Johnson who took the message of Martin King and the -- being driven by Martin King and passed the civil rights act with the Congress at that time, Republicans and Democrats, and the 1965 voting rights act. What I'm hoping in this spiritual moment that is not only the people who have gathered on the mall and it is a momentous occasion. It's a beautiful sight. But I really want to hopefully share with those who are in their hospital beds or those who are in their offices and their schools or at their offices about this moment. This is a moment for America to come together.

LEMON: Yes. You know, President Clinton said that the people that came before him, the John Lewises, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.s of the world, we should honor them and honor how brave they are. Van Jones, there were moments there throughout these speeches. We went back to the '80s with President Carter. Back to the '90s with Bill Clinton, but there were moments where we just sort of locked eyes in agreement, like amen.

VAN JONES, HOST, CNN'S "CROSSFIRE": You know, you're talking about 40 years in the wilderness from the time that Dr. King was killed to Obama being elected in 2008 and when you think about it from that point of view, those 40 years were very, very difficult. I think that people forget how violent segregation was. How terrified people were. We talk about terror now. There was terror in America for 100 years after slavery and people had to really find courage to stand up and to speak out.

This was a courageous thing. These people had to go back home. They had to go back home to face the clan. You getting photographed up here, you got to get on a bus and go home. So we forget about that level of personal courage, unknown heroes who lost jobs when they got back home and who were threatened. So to be here now, you keep saying it's a spiritual moment. I wish America could be here, the dignity, the grace with which people are walking especially the older African- Americans, the pride.

John Lewis spoke directly, directly to young people, directly to young people saying, you know what? If you don't think things have changed, then you should walk in my shoes just for a moment.

LEMON: We're going to get back now to Martin Luther King Jr. III. Let's listen in. MARTIN LUTHER KING III, DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.'S SON: -- he often talks and sometimes we must take positions that are neither safe nor popular nor politic. But we must take those positions because our conscience tells us they're right. Our families say this afternoon we've got a lot of work to do, but none of us should be anywhere tired. Why, because we've come much too far from where we started. You see, no one ever told any of us that our roads would be easy. But I know our God, our God, our God, did not bring any of us this far to leave us. Thank you. God bless you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please welcome Christine King Ferris.

CHRISTINE KING FERRIS: Thank you. President Obama and Mrs. Obama, former Presidents Clinton and Carter, other distinguished program participants, I am honored to be among you today and to address this historic gathering. I don't know if I am the most senior speaker to address this assembly today, but I am certainly and surely the only person alive who knew Martin Luther King Jr. when he was a baby.

It has been my great privilege to watch my little brother grow and thrive and develop into a fine man and then a great leader whose legacy continues to inspire countless millions around the world. Unfortunately, a bout with a flu virus 50 years ago prevented me from attending the original march. But I was able to watch it on television, and I was as awe struck as everyone else.

I knew Martin was an excellent preacher because I had seen him deliver on many occasions. But on that day, martin achieved greatness because he melded the hopes and dreams of millions into a grand vision of healing, reconciliation and brotherhood. The dream my brother shared with our nation and world on that sweltering day of days 50 years ago continues to nurture and sustain nonviolent activists worldwide in their struggle for freedom and human rights.

Indeed, this gathering provides a powerful testament of hope and proof positive that martin's great dream will live on in the heart of humanity for generations to come. Our challenge, then, as followers of Martin Luther King Jr. is to now honor his life, leadership and legacy by living our lives in a way that carries forward the unfinished work.

There is no better way to honor his sacrifices and contributions than by becoming champions of nonviolence in our homes and communities, in our places of work, worship and learning everywhere, every day. The dream Martin shared on that day a half century ago remains a definitive statement of the American dream.

The beautiful vision of a diverse, freedom loving people united around love for justice, brotherhood and sisterhood. Yes, they can slay the dreamer. But, no, they cannot destroy his immortal dream. But Martin's dream is a vision not yet to be realized. A dream yet unfilled. And we have much to do before we can celebrate the dream as a reality. As the suppression of voting rights and horrific violence that has taken the life of Trayvon Martin and young people all across America has so painfully demonstrated.

But despite the influences and challenges we face, we are here today to affirm the dream. We are not going to be discouraged. We are not going to be distracted. We are not going to be defeated. Instead, we are going forward into this uncertain future with courage and determination to make the dream a reality. And so the work to fulfill the dream goes on, and despite the daunting challenges we face on the road to the beloved community, I feel that the dream is sinking deep and nourishing roots all across America and around the world. May it continue to thrive and spread and help bring justice, peace, and liberation to all humanity. Thank you and God bless you all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please welcome, Reverend Dr. Bernice King.

REV. BERNICE KING, DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.'S DAUGHTER: President Obama, Mrs. Obama, Presidents Carter and Clinton, Congressman Lewis, Ambassador Young, to my brother Martin III, Dexter Scott King, to my entire family, I was 5 months old when my father delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech and I probably was somewhere crawling on the floor or taking a nap after having a meal. But today is a glorious day because on this program today, we have witnessed a manifestation of the beloved community. And we thank everyone for their presence here today.

Today we have been honored to have three presidents of the United States. Fifty years ago, the president did not attend. Today, we are honored to have many women in the planning and mobilization of the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington. Fifty years ago, there was not a single woman on the program. Today, we are honored to have not just one young person, but several young people on the program today. It is certainly a tribute to the work and the legacy of so many people that have gone on before us.

Fifty years ago today in the symbolic shadow of this great emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, my father, the great liberator, stood in this very spot and declared to this nation his dream to let freedom ring, for all people who were being manacled by a system of segregation and discrimination. Fifty years ago he commissioned us to go back to our various cities, towns, hamlets, states and villages and let freedom ring.

The reverberation of the sound of that freedom message has amplified and echoed since 1963 through the decades and coast to coast throughout this nation and even around the world. And has summoned us once again back to these hallowed grounds to send out a clariant call to let freedom ring. Since that time as a result of the civil rights agent of 1964, the voting rights act of 1965 and the fair housing act in 1968, we have witnessed great strides toward freedom for all, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, class or sexual orientation.

Fifty years later, in this year of jubilee, we're standing once again in the shadow of that great emancipator, having been summoned to these hallowed grounds to reverberate the message of that great liberator for there's a remnant from 1963, Congressman Lewis, Ambassador Young, that still remains, who has come to bequeath that message of freedom to a new generation of people who must now carry that message in their time, in their communities, amongst their tribes and amongst their nations of the world. We must keep the sound and the message of freedom and justice going. It was my mother, as has been said previously, Coretta Scott King, who, in fact, 30 years ago assembled a coalition of conscience that started us on this whole path of remembering the anniversary of the march on Washington. She reminded us that struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation and so we come once again to let freedom ring because if freedom stops ringing, then the sound will disappear and the atmosphere will be charged with something else.

Fifty years later, we come once again to this special landing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to reflect, to renew, and to rejuvenate for the continued struggle of freedom and justice. For today, 50 years later, my friends, we are still crippled by practices and policies steeped in racial pride, hatred and hostility. Some of which have us standing our ground rather than finding common ground. We are still chained by economic disparities, income and class inequalities and conditions of poverty for many of God's children around this nation and the world.

We'll still bound by a cycle of civil unrest and inherent social biases in our nation and world that oftentimes degenerates into violence and destruction especially against women and children. We're at this landing and now we must break the cycle. The Prophet King spoke the vision. He made it plain and we must run with it in this generation, his prophetic vision and magnificent dream described the yearning of people all over the world to have the freedom to prosper in life.

Which is the right to pursue one's aspirations, purpose, dreams, well- being, without oppressive, depressive, repressive practices, behaviors, laws and conditions that diminish one's dignity and that denies one life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The freedom to participate in government, which is the right to have a voice and a say in how you are represented, regulated, and governed without threats of tyranny, disenfranchisement, exclusionary tactics and behaviors.

And to have freedom to peacefully co-exist, which is the right to be respected in one's selfhood, individuality, and uniqueness without fear of attack, assault or abuse. In 1967 my father asked a poignant and critical question. Where do we go from here, chaos or community? And we say with a resounding voice no to chaos and yes to community. If we're going to rid ourselves of the chaos, then we must make a necessary shift. Nothing is more tragic than for us to fail to achieve new attitudes and new mental outlooks.

We have a tremendous and unprecedented opportunity to reset the very means by which we live, work and enjoy our lives. If we're going to continue the struggle of freedom and create true community, then we will have to be relentless in exposing, confronting and ridding ourselves of the mindset of pride and greed and selfishness and hate and lust and fear and idleness and lack of purpose and lack of love as my brother said, for our neighbor.

We must seize this moment, the dawning of a new day, the emergence of a new generation. Who is postured to change the world through collaborative power, facilitate it by unconditional love and, as I close, I call upon my brother by the name of Neamaya who was in the midst of rebuilding a community, in the midst of rebuilding a community he brought the leaders and the rulers and the rest of the people together. And he told them that the work is great and large, and we are widely separated one from another on the wall.

But when you hear the sound of the trumpet, and might I say when you hear the sound of the bell today, come to that spot, and our God will fight with us. And so today, we're going to let freedom ring all across this nation. We're going to let freedom ring everywhere we go. If freedom is going to ring in Libya, in Syria, in Egypt, in Florida, then we must reach across the table, feed each other and let freedom ring.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then we must reach across the table, feed each other, and let freedom ring.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In 1963, the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed. The bell was saved. And thanks to the church and William Bell, the mayor of Birmingham, that bell is here.

To help celebrate Dr. King's legacy and this day, let freedom ring.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please welcome our next performance by Tony and Grammy Award winner Heather Headley.