President Obama will speak from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial later this month as part of the event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the White House announced yesterday.
The president will be delivering his address from the very spot where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech.
Entitled “Let Freedom Ring” and organized by civil rights leaders such as Rev. Al Sharpton and Ben Jealous of the NAACP, the event will highlight jobs and employment. It will also address the murder of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and the Supreme Court decision striking down part of the Voting Rights Act, Sharpton has said.
While the White House did not release details of what Obama’s speech may focus on, “it can be expected that it will touch on issues of race and civil rights, including the Supreme Court’s recent decision declaring a key piece of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional,” according to Politico.
Obama last month stepped up to the podium at the White House and spoke personally and eloquently about race and Trayvon, saying, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”
The president also blasted the “Stand Your Ground” law, which Attorney General Eric Holder had also criticized earlier in the week. Obama said the country needed to focus more attention on improving the plight of young black males.
Obama explained to the nation why the African-American community reacted with such outrage and pain to the acquittal of Trayvon’s killer George Zimmerman, putting the verdict in the context of the nation’s history of racism and the difficulties black people still face in this country.
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It was a moment that television commentators across the airwaves described as “historic.” NBC’s Andrea Mitchell said his comments “gave me chills.”
“You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” Obama said to a shocked press corps, which hadn’t even been warned that the president would appear at the briefing.
“And when you think about why, in the African-American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that—that doesn’t go away. There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.”
Rep. John Lewis, who is the only surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington, will also be addressing the crowd.
“I feel like I have an obligation to go there,” Lewis told the Guardian. “The people that I marched with, that I worked with, are all gone. Many of them are gone. So I have to represent them.”