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MLK Dream Speech Anniversary

Aired August 28, 2013 - 15:33   ET



DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: That is the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, an African-American, on this 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

As you look at pictures on this Mall of the thousands of people who have gathered here, the president serious today, going deep, going deep, not only looking back and honoring the people who came before him, whose shoulders upon which he stands, but also giving some tough love.

And also soul searching and looking forward to the future of what we need to do in order to achieve not only Dr. King's dream, but beyond that, equality, equality of life for every single American.

There's the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton there. Also the King family in the crowd as well.

I'm joined here on the podium on this great National Mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial by Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee who worked in the movement. And also CNN's Van Jones, a host of "CROSSFIRE."

Congresswoman, he was -- he spoke to the people here, but he knew that speaking to the folks here, he was preaching to the choir.

He was reaching beyond the people in Washington, and everyone, I say every American, should have been listening to this speech.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: Don, you know, I started with that.

Dr. King was a dreamer, but he believed in America. Today, President Obama spoke to the hope of America, and he is hopeful for America.


LEE: As you look at this vast throng of humanity, the ones who came are clinging onto their hope.

LEMON: In the rain.

LEE: In the rain. But the real challenge today is, as I said, for those Americans far and wide that are not here, what President Obama said to them was, we are one. We are united. We are the manifest of our own destiny. We have low valleys and high mountains.

And as someone who worked for the SPLC, it is the same challenge that I would like to give. Because as a member of Congress, we have a task to believe in Dr. King's dream and to implement it.

And that's what the president has said. Raise the minimum wage. Educate our children. Be fathers and mothers. He gave us a road map.

LEMON: Yes, he did. He spoke to the poor. He spoke to African- Americans, specifically. He spoke to white Americans. He spoke to Democrats and Republicans.

LEE: All of them.

LEMON: This was a far reaching speech, Van Jones.

VAN JONES, CNN HOST, "CROSSFIRE": It was, and I feel, you know, that he was beginning to move into the Johnson direction.

In other words, some people say that he should be the heir of King. King was a preacher. He's the heir of Lincoln. He's the heir of FDR. Here's the heir of Johnson.

And he has to be evaluated. And I saw him reaching for that legacy. He spoke about issues of class. He talked about jobs.

And he was willing to give some tough love to parts of the black community that are falling behind.

But look at this. Look at this beautiful, beautiful scene here, this beautiful family that has inspired the world, that's given black children something to aspire to.

Now here comes Jimmy Carter.

LEMON: Right.

JONES: A great man who when he came on the scene was a Southerner who understood the issues of race and then Bill Clinton.

LEE: Another Southerner, William Jefferson Clinton.

LEMON: The 42nd and 44th president of the United States, on stage.

LEE: If I might say also, the president took the challenge to speak to the Congress of the United States of America.

He is the visionary. The American people are the humanity. We are the architects.

I want my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, I hope they are somewhere today listening not to divisiveness, but to hope, for them to come back and be joined by the president, to be able to be the crafters of a better America, a more educated America, a more improved America.

LEMON: And to accomplish something.

LEE: To accomplish something together, unified as one.

LEMON: The person who can speak to that as well as Van Jones is CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

Wolf Blitzer, you sat there. You listened to the speech. Just on a personal note, I have to say this is -- for me, I enjoyed this speech by the president more than I've enjoyed any other, even the inauguration speech.

This speech spoke to every single person in America, Wolf Blitzer.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Well, explain, Don, maybe Van will want to explain also, when you both suggested the president had some tough love in this speech for the African-American community, be specific.

What did he say that in your assessment represented that kind of tough love?

LEMON: Well, he talked about, right, and you guys can weigh in on this, he said that poverty did not -- should not become an excuse. And it has become an excuse for some not to try to make it, not to live the dream.

And he talked about other -- he talked about racial politics as well. And he said some of that -- some of the goodwill and the folks in the black community, in the movement who were -- who had -- who were working for good, and correct me if I'm wrong, had given over maybe to racial politics.

And some in the black community had started to use excuses as to not being able to make it. That is not what Dr. King's dream was. Let me let Van weigh in on that.

JONES: Well, I mean, Dr. King always said that individuals have the responsibility to climb that ladder on their own effort and with their own energy and initiative.

But Dr. King also said they have to have a ladder to climb. I think he had a good balance here of saying, yes, you must move forward. You can't make excuses.

But he also talked about the importance of society of making -- putting the rungs on the ladder and giving people the opportunity to climb.

And I think Dr. King had been misunderstood and sometimes hijacked as saying all he wanted was for individuals to have an opportunity.

That's true, but he also wanted to make sure that society came together to give those poor kids a chance. And I think Obama stood for that today.

LEE: Dr. King spoke of -- in his last days on April 3rd, 1968, that he had been to the mountain top, that he had seen the promised land, and what he was saying is that he saw that America was a land of opportunity.

I think the president gave a little bit of tough love today. But I also think he understood the anguish of those who may have engaged in different activity and what he said is, we all have to be able to help and educate children in crumbling schools, and as I said, raise the bridge, the divide of unequal wealth.

That's something that Congress and state legislators -- and let me just say this. We must fix the Voting Rights Act because Dr. King in his efforts for accommodation understood that the empowerment of the vote was a powerful tool as well.

LEMON: Thank you for that. I see Jesse Jackson is waiting in the wings. He's raring to go. I can only imagine what he's going to have to say about this.

LEE: Let me just salute Reverend Jesse Jackson as well as one of those (inaudible).


LEE: Thank you.

LEMON: Wolf, Gloria and you guys there in Washington, thank you so much.

We're going to get to a quick break. We'll come back here to Washington on the other side of the break.

My colleague Brooke Baldwin in Atlanta will help me with the coverage. We'll be right back here on CNN.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Got some breaking news for you out of Texas. We'll take you back to Washington in just a moment, but first, I want to get this to you.

A military jury has unanimously recommended the death penalty for Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal Hasan. He was convicted of killing those 13 people and wounding some 32 others in a massacre at the Texas Army base back in 2009.

Ed Lavandera has been down there for the trial. Ed, I know just reading about the closing arguments today, incredibly emotional inside that courtroom.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, it was incredibly powerful the way prosecutors wrapped up the testimony and the work here in this -- what is a court martial that is now into its fourth week. Prosecutors, before sending the jury off to deliberate, went one by one with poignant snapshots of each of the 13 victims, talking about their family members, the struggles that they've had coping with the loss and everything that they've had to deal with. And it was extremely powerful.

And if there was any doubt in these jurors' minds, they had seen all along as Nidal Hasan basically had put up no fight, that he wanted to become a martyr, be sentenced to death himself.

The prosecutors finished their closing arguments this morning by saying that Nidal Hasan would never become a martyr because he has nothing to give. He is a criminal, a cold-blooded murder. He is not giving his life. We are taking his life.

And it took the jury about two-and-a-half hours or so to reach that unanimous verdict, as you mentioned, a death sentence for Nidal Hasan.

Now he will be sent off to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and begin the appeals process.

And we've talked a lot about over the last few weeks about how complicated military death cases are. It will take years before Nidal Hasan is eligible or will be signed off to receive the death penalty.

BALDWIN: Let me just quickly ask you about that just for perspective for people who don't know the history here.

It has been, Eddie, something like 50 years since someone has been put to death after a military court-martial, so the likelihood here could be pretty murky.

LAVANDERA: It's going to take a long time. The last person who was killed in the military justice system was back in 1961.

There are currently five soldiers on death row. And, ultimately, this will require the signature of the president. Presidents sign off on the death sentence for these soldiers after the appeals process is exhausted.

It will probably not be President Obama, and it could be very likely that it is not the next president that signs off on this, ultimately, so it depends on who you talk to will determine just how long this will take.

But the appeals process will take some time. But, ultimately, the death sentence is what is in store for Nidal Hasan.

BALDWIN: Ed Lavandera for us in Fort Hood. Ed, thank you very much.

And when we come back, you have been watching live here on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

We will take you back, live, to D.C. when we return.



DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I have a dream. Let freedom ring.


BALDWIN: Let freedom ring, the famous words uttered 50 years ago, and here you have the bell ringing just about 50 minutes ago.

That bell right there is the very same bell that rang out in Birmingham, Alabama, at the 16th Street Baptist Church back on September 15th, 1963, because that was the day the bomb ripped through the church, taking the lives of those four little girls.

And bells rang out just like this one at some 300 churches nationwide this afternoon to pay tribute to the anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech and, of course, that famous line, "Let freedom ring."

We've been watching the ceremony throughout this afternoon here on CNN on this historic day, as we've marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

I want to go back to Don Lemon who's been steering that for us. And, Don, just listening to you and Van Jones talking earlier, I know it's been a nasty, rainy day for those who made the trek there, but according to you two, one woman was saying, "I don't need an umbrella. I faced the fire hoses back in the day. I am fine."

It puts it in perspective, doesn't it?

LEMON: Absolutely. It certainly does. And it's just a little rain. We're not going to melt from a little rain.

And you know what? You wouldn't really know it was raining if you looked at the crowds that showed up.

At first, people were concerned it was going to put a damper on it. It did not.

And I just want to pay tribute, quickly, to those four little girls that you mentioned, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair, those four little girls that died on September 15th, 1963, after the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed, 1963.

I also want to read something. I want to bring in now the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Van Jones is here with me.

Tell me if you know this quote. It says, "But nothing in any country" -- this person is talking about turmoil across the world -- and he says, "But nothing in any country touches us more profoundly and nothing is more freighted with meaning for our own destiny than the revolution of the Negro American."

That sounds a lot like what we heard here. What was that? Am I right?


Today, we heard great inspiration and analysis, frankly, from Presidents Carter, Clinton. President Obama took us too another level, but we get inspiration today from looking in the rear-view mirror.

Our challenge today is out the windshield. These deep unemployment require appropriation, legislation, and civil rights enforcement. That is our -- we're inspired now, but (inaudible). We're still unemployed, and there's no plan to employ them. (Inaudible). They're still there.

So the challenge to, in fact, end the stand your ground laws, revive the war on poverty, student loan debt forgiveness, these require investment.

I hope our government will respond to the Dream Speech in that way.

LEMON: I want to know, though, as you're here, what's going on in your heart, 50 years later, as you looked out on this Mall, as heard that speech, the first African-American president.

You're an orator yourself. One of the best speeches I ever heard was 1988 at the Democratic National Convention. I listen to that speech all the time when I need inspiration. I am somebody.

JACKSON: Well, it really started here. We had tents out here, "Resurrection City," and I had been asked to be the mayor by Reverend Abernathy. And that morning, you know, spirits were low, Dr. King had been killed. Robert Kennedy had been killed.

And the people were looking to me to give something. I had nothing to give them, no money, no food, no bus ticket back home. And I had heard from Howard Thurman, when your back is against the wall, through irreducible essence, you have got something left. You're somebody. I am, and I matter. That really came from here, 1968.

LEMON: Go ahead, Van.

JONES: I just want to say to you, sir, you know, when you talk about 40 years in the wilderness, you talk about Dr. King being killed in '68, Obama being sworn in in 2008, whenever you have a bridge that long, there has to be a central post.

You were the central post. Nobody can take that away from you. 1984, 1988, your conception of the Rainbow Coalition is now the governing coalition of America.

And had you not changed the rules in 1988 at the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton would have won the nomination, so I just want to give -- I know you were here 50 years ago, but you were here 20 years ago as well. And I appreciate you.

The country needs to remember there would be no Barack Obama had there not been a Reverend Jesse Jackson in '88. LEMON: Look how much love you're getting.

JACKSON: I thank President Obama for having the stuff to take that ball across the finish line. He has the intellectual capacity, the strength, the courage, and the conviction.

But my concern is now he's more responding to what happened 50 years ago and great it was, and it was great.

The windshield in front of us says, in these urban areas, you know, the impact of home foreclosures, the impact of plants closing, jobs leaving, drugs (inaudible).

So we now need a constitutional right to vote, a revival of the war on poverty and student loan debt forgiveness, something like that.

LEMON: I hate to rush the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

JACKSON: No, you don't.


LEMON: I've got to get to break, but just a quick question. I would be remiss in my duties as a reporter. How is Jesse, Jr., doing?

JACKSON: He is recovering. And my primary (inaudible) and, thanks be to God, he is getting healthy. This time a year ago, I thought we would have lost him.

But now I'm convinced he's getting stronger. And keep praying because prayers do matter so much.

LEMON: His wife and the family and everybody?

JACKSON: The wife, the children and the family has had to expand and include.

LEMON: Thank you.

JACKSON: Thank you so much.

LEMON: Thank you. We'll be right back here on CNN.


LEMON: We're back now live at the Mall in Washington. What a day it was.

I want to bring in Donna Brazile here, my colleague, commentator, Democratic strategist, know-it-all.

So as they say, as the old folks say, now that we're here, what do you think?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Where do we go from here? We will continue to march for freedom and justice, but today I think all of us leave with heavy hearts, knowing that so many came before us to get us here at this moment and now it's our opportunity to keep the dream alive.

LEMON: As Dr. King would say, let freedom ring.

BRAZILE: Let it ring. Free at last.

LEMON: All right, thank you, Donna.

I'm Don Lemon in Washington. I'm going to throw it now to my colleague, "THE LEAD" and John Berman.