Press Trust of India
Washington, 29 August
US President Barack Obama led the nation in commemorating the 50th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi-inspired ‘March on Washington’ by Martin Luther King, wherein he delivered his famous ‘dream’ speech.
Speaking on the footsteps of the historic Lincoln Memorial in Washington yesterday, Mr Obama declared that the “great unfinished business” of the civil rights era was providing economic equality and opportunity to all Americans.
Paying rich tribute to Martin Luther King, Mr Obama said America changed, because they kept marching.
“Because they kept marching, America changed. Because they marched, a Civil Rights law was passed. Because they marched, a Voting Rights law was signed. Because they marched, doors of opportunity and education swung open so their daughters and sons could finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else’s laundry or shining somebody else’s shoes,” he said in an impressive speech.
“Because they marched, city councils changed and state legislatures changed, and Congress changed, and, yes, eventually, the White House changed,” Mr Obama said amidst applause from thousands of people attending the event.
“Because they marched, America became more free and more fair ~ not just for African Americans, but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans; for Catholics, Jews, and Muslims; for gays, for Americans with a disability. America changed for you and for me,” he said.
“And the entire world drew strength from that example, whether the young people who watched from the other side of an Iron Curtain and would eventually tear down that wall, or the young people inside South Africa who would eventually end the scourge of apartheid,” he said at the event which was also addressed by the former US President Bill Clinton.
Mr Obama said for over a decade, working Americans of all races have seen their wages and incomes stagnate, even as corporate profits soar, even as the pay of a fortunate few explodes and inequality has steadily risen over the decades.
“Upward mobility has become harder. 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,” he said.
“And so as we mark this anniversary, we must remind ourselves that the measure of progress for those who marched 50 years ago was not merely how many blacks could join the ranks of millionaires.
“It was whether this country would admit all people who are willing to work hard regardless of race into the ranks of a middle-class life,” Mr Obama said.
The March on Washington, he said, teaches that the USA is not trapped by the mistakes of history.
“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,” he said. “America, I know the road will be long, but I know we can get there. Yes, we will stumble, but I know we’ll get back up. That’s how a movement happens. That’s how history bends. That’s how when somebody is faint of heart, somebody else brings them along and says, come on, we’re marching,” Mr Obama said.