Obama: "King would be amazed" about civil rights progress
August 27th, 2013
06:10 PM ET
11 months ago

Obama: "King would be amazed" about civil rights progress

Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama joked that his address marking the 50th anniversary of the historic "I Have A Dream" speech "won't be as good" as Dr. Martin Luther King's original.

King's 1,600-word address – arguably one of the most important speeches of the 20th century – became a crucial moment in the struggle for civil rights in the U.S.

The president also said in an interview on the Tom Joyner Morning Show that ran Tuesday that if King were alive today, he'd be "amazed in many ways about the progress that we've made."

But Obama added that King would not be satisfied.

"When it comes to the economy, when it comes to inequality, when it comes to wealth, when it comes to the challenges that inner cities experience, he would say that we have not made as much progress as the civil and social progress that we've made, and that it's not enough just to have a black President," said Obama.

The president gives the concluding speech at Wednesday's event at the Lincoln Memorial, the site of King's address in 1963.

Here are the comments the president made about King in his interview with Tom Joyner and co-host Sybil Wilkes:

TOM JOYNER: We are in the Oval Office with the President on the day before he does his speech for the – commemorating the I Have A Dream speech. Is it ready?

THE PRESIDENT: Not quite yet. Still working on it. But let me just say for the record right now, it won't be as good as the speech 50 years ago. (Laughter.) I just want to get that out there early. Because when you are talking about Dr. King's speech at the March on Washington, you're talking about one of the maybe five greatest speeches in American history. And the words that he spoke at that particular moment, with so much at stake, and the way in which he captured the hopes and dreams of an entire generation I think is unmatched.

And so all I can do on an occasion like this is just to celebrate the accomplishments of all of those folks whose shoulders we stand on and then remind people that the work is still out there for us to do, and that we honor his speech but also, more importantly in many ways, the organization of the ordinary people who came out for that speech. We honor them not by giving another speech ourselves – because it won't be as good – but instead by just doing the day-to-day work to make sure this is a more equal and more just society.

TOM JOYNER: Fifty years later, what do you think Dr. King would have said about our progress and his dream?

THE PRESIDENT: I think that Dr. King would be amazed in many ways about the progress that we've made. I don't think that he would look and say nothing has changed. He would say, the fact that we have equal rights before the law; the fact that the judicial system and the courts are accessible; and that African-Americans serve on juries; and that we have thousands of African-American elected officials all across the country; and that we've got African-American CEOs of Fortune 100 companies; and we have a large thriving congressional black caucus, and that, as a consequence of some of the doors that he and others helped kick down, Latinos and women and Asians and the disabled and gays and lesbians, that they all also suddenly found a seat at the table – I think he would say it was a glorious thing.

What he would also say, though, is that the March on Washington was about jobs and justice. And that when it comes to the economy, when it comes to inequality, when it comes to wealth, when it comes to the challenges that inner cities experience, he would say that we have not made as much progress as the civil and social progress that we've made, and that it's not enough just to have a black President, it's not enough just to have a black syndicated radio show host. The question is, does the ordinary person, day-to-day, can they succeed. And we have not made as much progress as we need to on that, and that is something that I spend all my time thinking about, is how do we give opportunity to everybody so if they work hard they can make it in this country.


Filed under: Martin Luther King • President Obama
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Gurgyl

    First get rid off NRA. Real civil rights start from there. Pass Gun-ban laws.

    August 27, 2013 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  2. SgtRena

    "The question is, does the ordinary person, day-to-day, can they succeed. And we have not made as much progress as we need to on that, and that is something that I spend all my time thinking about, is how do we give opportunity to everybody so if they work hard they can make it in this country."

    Mr. President, the ordinary person can, and has, generally succeeded. The problem in the inner city comes down to level of education and lack of parenting and community support. If you don't jump throught the hoops, stay out of trouble and learn some skills, it is really hard to join the workforce and improve your situation. Most Americans seem to get that. Why don't you? Apparently that didn't improve much during your work in Chicago, but perhaps if you get overtly honest with yourself and the rest of the country, maybe you could take another stab at it?

    August 27, 2013 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  3. Chris

    No, he would be ashamed. Ashamed of a President who could have done more with educating the young, black killers across America but chose to do nothing more than use them to continue a racist hate against White America.

    August 27, 2013 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  4. pbcalif

    He would be amazed and those thousands and thousands of slaves who went before would also be amazed; however, we now stand to be amazed that the radical Tea Party and Republican Party would put blacks, Hispanics, elderly, and women back to those days of repression, abuse, and bigotry.

    August 27, 2013 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  5. boungiorno

    when will you do your job it isnt about race and if it is then its your reluctance to face facts,at the end of the day your still Black!

    August 27, 2013 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  6. rs

    On many fronts King might be amazed, but he would surely recognize the spector of evil on the Right:taking away voting rights; dismantling the hard-fought Voting Rights Act; enshrining discrimination policy- as Mr. Paul would do; demonizing the poor (the 47% "takers"); the growing disparity between the salaries of the rich and poor and on and on. King would recognize the old enemy of supremacy is still out there working daily within the GOP.

    August 27, 2013 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  7. Woman In California

    But Obama added that King would not be satisfied.

    -

    No, he sure wouldn't neither would any civil rights activist who was hurt or died for what we're experiencing in the black communities now.

    The n--- word is used as some kind of a "heartfelt greeting";
    Public assistance is being abused;
    Teenage pregnancy is no longer frowned upon;
    Absentee fathers are proud of referring to their child's mothers as "baby mamas";
    Streets bearing Dr. King's name are no place to live;
    Drugs and gangs are part of survival; and
    Gun violence is out of control.

    These are the FACTS. We need to get back to the basic principles of striving to be all that we can be and stop all this stupidity and ignorance. This is NOT what Dr. King had in mind nor was it his dream. Have we made progress yes, but that progress is overshadowed by all the violence in the news. Thank God for all the actual role models that we do have in our lives, starting with the president and First Lady. Bottom line: we can and should do better we owe it to ourselves and our children.

    August 27, 2013 10:07 pm at 10:07 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    Well, for a start, I would make sure to hold people accountable for their actions. Corruption is a huge money pit; Mayor BF in SanDiego fora small instance. Having the people help pay for treatment, not caused by being in office or on duty, is morally wrong. I think we can feasibly have a 2 week "house-keeping" regiment, and atleast find an issue or 39. Empower the states, and behoove them to follow suit. Hell, even a random UA might yield interesting results. Lead from the top, hold them accountable, and it trickles down. It wont end corruption, but it is a start.

    August 27, 2013 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  9. S. B. Stein

    I would wonder what Dr. King would say to those laws that require more ID in order to vote. I think that he would call them wrong in the first place.

    August 27, 2013 11:16 pm at 11:16 pm |
  10. RomneyWho

    When Martin Luther King was alive and advocating for civil rights and civil justice for the oppressed, mainly African Americans, he was beaten, spat on, jailed, called a communist socialist pig, among other things, spied on by the people's government, threaten by mainstream america and then assassinated by what would seem to be a lone gunmen of which we know better. And now the very ones that plotted his demised, lifts him up in song while immortalizing him in stone as if the dark clouds of America's history doing that time of evil, never existed. Today it's like we are now sleeping with the enemy but under clean sheets and everything is covered from our head to our feet, thus, allowing racial injustice to continue to breath and breed in the hidden shadows and pockets of hypocrisy! :)

    August 28, 2013 05:50 am at 5:50 am |
  11. Marie MD

    A lot has changed but a lot is still the same. The dream still has a long way to go.
    Our country needs higher wages because a lot of people who some call welfare leeches are really poor people working two and three jobs to make so little.
    The fact that the SCOTUS of the US thinks that what red governors are doing makes one think if they are paying attention to NC, TX, OH and PA.
    The teatrolls who want government out of the lives but I think 90% of them receive social security and medicare came out in droves, backed by the Koch brothers, pretending to be a grassroots group because how dare the citizens of the US elect a black man not once but twice. The rove meltdown is probably one of the best moments of TV in 2012.

    August 28, 2013 06:18 am at 6:18 am |
  12. George

    What progress? You have a african american, maybe, president who divides the country and you have two do nothings in Jackson and Sharptop doing race hate and raising millions.

    August 28, 2013 07:31 am at 7:31 am |
  13. TONE

    Mr President this is one time i will disagree with you Sir we made progress up until you became President, we are going back to when minorities and women that is just one example.

    August 28, 2013 07:57 am at 7:57 am |
  14. smith

    Amazed and disgusted with the culture of gangs, drugs, violence, and poverty.

    August 28, 2013 08:08 am at 8:08 am |
  15. w l jones

    Build your country within your self and be reponser for all your action thin thin we all will be one American.

    August 28, 2013 08:50 am at 8:50 am |