Washington, DC, United States (4E) – President Barack Obama marked the 50th anniversary of the Washington March on Wednesday with a call to meet Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s elusive dream of economic opportunity for every American.
Speaking at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, Obama reminded the crowd of thousands that the measure of progress for those who marched 50 years ago was not merely how many blacks could join the ranks of millionaires.
He said he also wants the country to admit all people who are willing to work hard regardless of race into the ranks of a middle-class life.
“The test was not, and never has been, whether the doors of opportunity are cracked a bit wider for a few. It was whether our economic system provides a fair shot for the many — for the black custodian and the white steelworker, the immigrant dishwasher and the Native American veteran. To win that battle, to answer that call — this remains our great unfinished business,” Obama declared.
The President said that for over a decade, working Americans of all races have seen their wages and incomes stagnate, even as corporate profits soar and the pay of a fortunate few explodes. He also said that black unemployment has remained almost twice as high as white unemployment, Latino unemployment close behind.
“The gap in wealth between races has not lessened, it’s grown. And as President Clinton indicated, the position of all working Americans, regardless of color, has eroded, making the dream Dr. King described even more elusive,” according to Obama.
“In too many communities across this country, in cities and suburbs and rural hamlets, the shadow of poverty casts a pall over our youth, their lives a fortress of substandard schools and diminished prospects, inadequate health care and perennial violence.”
Obama called for meeting King’s goals of 50 years ago.
“The March on Washington teaches us that we are not trapped by the mistakes of history; that we are masters of our fate. But it also teaches us that the promise of this nation will only be kept when we work together. We’ll have to reignite the embers of empathy and fellow feeling, the coalition of conscience that found expression in this place 50 years ago,” Obama said.
“And with that courage, we can stand together for good jobs and just wages. With that courage, we can stand together for the right to health care in the richest nation on Earth for every person. With that courage, we can stand together for the right of every child, from the corners of Anacostia to the hills of Appalachia, to get an education that stirs the mind and captures the spirit, and prepares them for the world that awaits them.
“With that courage, we can feed the hungry, and house the homeless, and transform bleak wastelands of poverty into fields of commerce and promise.”
Also present at the event were King’s family, Vice President Biden and Jill, former presidents, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, former presidential daughters Caroline Kennedy and Lynda Johnson Robb, celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker, and those who joined the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.
Republican lawmakers were absent, though invited former presidents George Bush and George W. Bush cited health reasons for not attending and the Republican National Committee held a luncheon honoring the march on Monday.