Fifty years since March on Washington, partisan divide persists
August 26th, 2013
11:37 AM ET
9 years ago

Fifty years since March on Washington, partisan divide persists

(CNN) – The fiftieth anniversary of the historic March on Washington, celebrated in the nation's capital this week, is being marked with separate events by Republicans and Democrats as a sharp partisan divide persists on issues of race in America.

Half a century after Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" address, which became a crucial moment in the struggle for civil rights in the U.S., a new national poll indicates a left-right divide over whether King's dream has been reached. And political issues that involve race, including voting rights and high minority unemployment, continue to split Americans along party lines.

According to Pew Research Center survey released last week, 49% of Americans say that "a lot more" needs to be done to achieve King's dream, with just over three in ten saying "some more" needs to be done and 16% saying little or nothing needs to be accomplished.

The poll indicates Democrats and Republicans don't see eye to eye on the question. Thirty-five percent of Republicans surveyed say "a lot more" needs to be done to reach racial equality. That number jumps to 63% among Democrats questioned in the survey, which was conducted in early August.

Louisiana's Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who in 2008 became the first Indian-American to serve as governor in the country's history, wrote in Politico Monday that for all the progress made on racial equality since King's "I Have a Dream" speech, there was still a sense of dividedness among Americans.

"We still place far too much emphasis on our 'separateness,' our heritage, ethnic background, skin color, etc," he wrote. "We live in the age of hyphenated Americans: Asian-Americans, Italian-Americans, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Indian-Americans, and Native Americans, to name just a few. Here's an idea: How about just 'Americans?'"

"We are all created in the image of God – skinny, fat, tall, short, dark, light, whatever. Who cares? What does it matter? It's time to get over it," he continued. "It's time for the end of race in America. Now that would be progress."

Jindal's essay comes as Republican and Democratic politicians hold separate events to mark the anniversary of King's speech and the March on Washington, which in 1963 drew hundreds of thousands of Americans to the National Mall in Washington.

A Saturday rally, organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network along with Martin Luther King III and the NAACP, featured speeches from Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, as well as Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights leader who now serves as a Democratic congressman representing parts of Atlanta.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Cory Booker, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in the Garden State, also spoke.

On Wednesday, which will be 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, President Barack Obama will deliver remarks at a rally in the same spot. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter will also attend and address the crowd.

Former President George W. Bush was invited to attend, but declined since he's recovering from a heart procedure earlier this summer. Bush had a stent placed in his heart on August 6 and left the hospital a day later.

No Republicans are slated to speak at the Wednesday event. Instead, the Republican National Committee is hosting a luncheon Monday to commemorate the anniversary that features the party's chairman Reince Priebus and prominent African-American Republicans, including T.W. Shannon, the speaker of Oklahoma's state House of Representatives, and former Rep. Allen West of Florida, who lost his bid for re-election last year.

"I think the RNC and chairman Priebus' timing on commemorating that event was well worth it," Shannon said on CNN later Monday. "If you look at the attendance that we had, we had people from all walks of life that came to the luncheon to participate to recognize that not only are we honoring the man, but we were honoring an idea."

Also attending the event – Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, the Wisconsin Republican who's been a leading GOP voice on rewriting portions of the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court gutted its key provisions in June.

Saying the court had "thrown a monkey wrench" into the law, he said it was lawmakers' responsibility to fix it.

Republican lawmakers also marked the march's anniversary in July, before leaving for August's recess, with an event in the U.S. Capitol led by House Speaker John Boehner.

CNN's Kevin Liptak and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.

Filed under: President Obama • Washington D.C.
soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. Econ301


    I often think it's because deep down inside, they don't really believe they can compete on a level playing field.


    Yeah I think so too. Even Republicans who are against uneven taxation on individuals due to amount of income want to treat different sources of income differently. Salary, Capital Gains, Inheritance for example... when isn't a dollar a dollar regardless of how it was acquired? Treating different sources of income differently is as inherently anti-capitalist as taxing different people at different rates IMO.

    August 26, 2013 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  2. just saying

    Wake up People!
    All one needs to do is look at the lack of respect shown to President Obama since 2008 to know we have a long way to go.

    are you serious??? lack of respect??? what respect did the democrats and leftists show george bush??? even today, 5 years after he has left office, you stil get the leftists in here calling him and dick cheney every name in the book! please, enough with the faux out rage.

    August 26, 2013 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  3. anonymous

    obama's 8 years in office will be devasting for the blacks in the usa. his massive failure in getting the economy back has kept the unemployment in the black community at record highs. well, they all voted for him so i guess they have nobody to blame but themselves. elections have consequences.

    August 26, 2013 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  4. Sivick

    Looks like Jindal and I can agree on some things. Wish he was so reasonable in all aspects.

    August 26, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  5. the hippies were right

    @J R Brown, So did you conduct a personal pole? Where did you obtain your facts? Or was your comment just an uneducated opinion? Your logic doesn't explain the millions of non black people that voted for Obama. Were those votes color or character, since you don't seem to believe they can go together.

    August 26, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  6. John Illinois

    Just curious, what rights does a white person have in America that other races don't?

    August 26, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  7. Sniffit

    "One, if they keep painting the right as angry crackers and bigots, then the left keeps the black vote."

    Observing that someone is behaving like a bigot is not "painting them" as a bigot. That's where you go wrong. The painting already occurred when the bigot picked up the brush and painted themselves into that corner. There is no "reverse racism." Racism is racism and it exists on "both sides" to the extent that some people have that kind of hat in their hearts. The difference is who has the power and who is favored or damaged by the systemic, institutionalized elements of racism in this country.

    The effort to constantly call "reverse racism" whenever anyone points out the racist nature of someone's bigoted words or behavior, however, stops the conversation cold. It's a cheap parlor trick and nothing more than an effort to create an excuse for doing and saying more and more racist things based on the idea that you've effectively undermined the credibility of anyone accusing you of it by "turning it around." The proof is in the pudding in that it's always the people trying to play that "reverse racism" card who then go off making racist comments in the midst of their explanation of how racist they aren't. Hint: Nobody's fooled, just infuriated.

    August 26, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  8. Hector Slagg

    Look at the words of Eldridge Cleaver, former Black Panther, who said, after several years on the run from the U.S. I would rather be in jail in the U.S. than a free man in any other country in the world. Mohammad Ali, the famous boxer, after a match in Zaiere, said, Thank god my ancester's got on that boat.

    Some are so stupid. Nobody want's to keep anyone down. But with the Nanny State mentality that is where some will stay, and complain that they never had a chance. Tell that to Bill Lear.and Abraham Lincoln.

    August 26, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
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