Glenn Beck's plans for rally on a hallowed date and spot spurs countermarches

By DeNeen Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 17, 2010; C01

Social activists and civil rights leaders, among them the Rev. Al Sharpton, are planning marches and demonstrations -- including the unveiling of a nearly four-story-tall original sculpture on the Mall -- on Aug. 28 to coincide with a rally organized by Fox News personality Glenn Beck.

Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally, with former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin among the scheduled speakers, will take place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, 47 years to the day after Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech there.

The conservative talk show host announced in November that he wanted to reveal a "100 year plan for America" at the Lincoln Memorial. More recently, he said that the purpose of his Aug. 28 event is to restore the country's "values" and to pay tribute to military families.

"There will be absolutely no politics involved," he said. "This rally will honor the troops, unite the American people under the principles of integrity and truth, and make a pledge to restore honor within ourselves and our country."

Civil rights leaders have denounced Beck's plans, questioning his motives for choosing the date and place, which they said are historically symbolic of the country's civil rights movement.

Responding to the criticism on his show June 28, Beck said he believes it was "divine providence" that the rally was scheduled on the anniversary of the King speech. He said he had initially planned the event for Sept. 12 and then realized it was a Sunday. "I'm not going to ask anyone to work on the Sabbath," he said. He rescheduled the rally for Aug. 28 because it was the best day for the schedules of the people involved, he said.

"It was not my intention to select 8-28 because of the Martin Luther King tie. It is the day he made that speech. I had no idea until I announced it and I walked offstage and my researchers said, New York Times has already just published that this is [the same day as the King speech] -- and I said, 'Oh, jeez.' "

He went on to say: "I believe in divine providence. I believe this is a reason [the date was chosen], because whites don't own the Founding Fathers. Whites don't own Abraham Lincoln. Blacks don't own Martin Luther King. Humans, humans embrace their ideas or reject their ideas. Too many are rejecting the Founders' ideas. Too many have forgotten Abraham Lincoln's ideas and far too many have either gotten just lazy or they have purposely distorted Martin Luther King's ideas of judge a man by the content of his character. Lately, in the last 20 years, we've been told that character doesn't matter. Well, if character doesn't matter, then what was Martin Luther King asking people to judge people by?"

Asked for further explanation of the remark, Beck's spokesman said, "No comment."

Confronting Beck's ideas

Still, several civil rights leaders and activists called Beck's comments disingenuous. They cited his record of making what they perceive to be racially insensitive comments.

As a guest on another Fox show in 2009, Beck said President Obama harbors "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture." On his March 2 show, Beck said: "I beg you look for the words 'social justice' or 'economic justice' on your church Web site. If you can find it, run as fast as you can." Later in the month, he added: "Am I advising people to leave their church? Yes, if I'm going, if I'm going to Jeremiah Wright's church," referring to President Obama's controversial former pastor in Chicago.

Beck's choice of day and place for the rally "is insulting, is what it is," Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, said in an interview Monday. "August 28 is something special. It is a day that means something in American history because it was the demonstration in the United States in support of civil rights."

Beck's plans are "an effort to embarrass and poke a finger in the eye of the civil rights community because Glenn Beck and his public utterances don't necessarily demonstrate a consistency with the vision of King."

Sharpton, who has planned a march that day to commemorate King's legacy, says Beck's rally contradicts King's legacy. Sharpton said he began planning in April for his "Reclaim the Dream Rally," which is scheduled to begin at Dunbar High School in Northwest Washington and end at the planned site of the King memorial on the Mall. The event, supported by the NAACP, the Urban League and Martin Luther King III, "is not a countermarch to Beck," nor will the rally be about confrontation. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be among the participants, according to a news release from Sharpton's National Action Network.

"For Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin to have a march, they have the right to do so. Many of us suspect they are using the symbolism of that day in a way that does not reflect what the day is about," Sharpton said. "At no point will we interchange. We will not desecrate the march and what King stood for."

Morial echoed Sharpton's comments.

"It is very important we convey a positive message that America belongs to everyone," he said. "Our rally is not an 'us against them.' We want no confrontation with Glenn Beck. But we want a confrontation with the ideas he espouses. His ideas seem to be ideas of intolerance."

A 'People's Memorial'

NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said that his organization and 200 other groups are planning a rally on Oct. 2 in the District "to pull America back together and put America back to work. . . . On that day we will reflect Dr. King's true legacy and his determination to eliminate poverty, racism and hatred in all forms."

Other organizations are staging "counter-events" on the Mall Aug. 28, including a grass-roots network of artists, community organizers and social activists calling themselves "Celebrate the Dream," which last Thursday secured a permit from the National Park Service to unveil an original sculpture on the Mall that day.

The People's Memorial to King, which organizers say will be 77 feet wide and 37 feet tall, is being designed by Michael Murphy, a 35-year-old sculptor and assistant professor of art at Georgia College and State University.

"We wanted a sculpture no one had seen before," but whose symbolism is clear, said Ericka Taylor, the project manager for Celebrate the Dream. "It should be elegant simplicity."

Murphy, who specializes in large-scale public art installations, said his vision was to create a sculpture that would convey the ideal of "unification and bringing people together."

Murphy describes the piece as a "directional" sculpture "that has four specific vantage points. . . . If you were to stray from the ideal point of view, the message gets lost," Murphy said. "The messages of Martin Luther King become distorted as the individual moves away." As the viewer moves closer, the message is rediscovered.

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