President Obama will speak at the “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28. That will mark the 50th anniversary celebration of the 1963 March on Washington where Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech grabbed hold of the nation and never let go. Now, this probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone that he would make this address. After all, Obama is the first African American president. To not be there would have been an inexplicable and incredible slight. But given what he has been saying of late, there is no question that he felt compelled to be there.
When people think of the March on Washington, their minds go instantly to issues of race. Blacks were fighting inequality, discrimination and disenfranchisement, to name a few of the issues. What most folks forget is that the full name of the Aug. 28, 1963 gathering was the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” The right to work at decent wages, to secure a foothold in the American Dream, was the other half of the marchers’ entreaty to their government. What was true then remains true today.
The quest for racial justice and understanding continues. In a historic surprise address from the White House briefing room, Obama gave voice to African American frustration over the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed an unarmed Trayvon Martin. He talked about the mistrust bred by police tactics like racial profiling. He called into question the racial impact and implementation of “Stand Your Ground” laws. And he called on the nation to do the kind of soul-searching that would allow us to make King’s “dream” a little more real for all of us.
With an economy still hobbling toward recovery, the quest for jobs remains. The 2008 economic and housing collapse exposed yawning income inequality and the dreams stunted by it. The president has made all of this the focus of the speeches and interviews he has been giving of late. So, it’s not like Obama hasn’t been thinking (or even speaking) about these things throughout his presidency. But when the president steps to the podium three weeks from today, expect him to talk about all these things with a passion that should move of all of us to action.
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