On the eve of his speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, President Obama invited Tom Joyner and Sybil Wilkes of the Tom Joyner Morning Show to the Oval Office to discuss what he plans to say along with the legacy of Dr. King 50 years later. During the interview, Obama touched on the Affordable Care Act in relation to King’s “dream,” saying the civil right leader “understood that health care, health security is not a privilege.”
As of this morning, Obama said that he was “still working on” his speech for tomorrow’s event. “But let me just say for the record right now,” the president said, “it won’t be as good as the speech 50 years ago.” Calling King’s speech “one of the maybe five greatest speeches in American history,” Obama said, “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.”
The president specifically addressed a question that has been dominating the news conversation this week and that could factor greatly in his speech tomorrow. “Fifty years later,” Joyner asked, “what do you think Dr. King would have said about our progress and his dream?” As he did during his speech following the Trayvon Martin verdict, Obama attempted to offer up a nuanced portrayal of both the progress and continued struggles for the African-American community.
“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.”
On the question of Obamacare, the president said King “would like” it “because I think he understood that health care, health security is not a privilege; it’s something that in a country as wealthy as ours, everybody should have access to.” He said he hopes the health care legislation is one of many things that define his legacy. “There is still so much that I want to get done in these next three and a half years,” Obama said, citing early childhood education as one of his next priorities.
Finally, Obama discussed the recent release of Lee Daniel’s The Butler with Joyner and Wilkes, admitting he teared up at parts and commending the leading performers. “Oprah, my girl, she can act,” Obama said.
“I will tell you that the butlers who are now here in the White House, when we first arrived,” he added, “they could not have been kinder to us and warmer to us. And part of it, I suspect, is they look at Malia and Sasha and they say, well, this looks like my grandbaby, or this looks like my daughter. And I think for them to have a sense that we’ve come that far was a powerful moment for them, and certainly a powerful moment for us.”
Listen to audio of the full interview below, via the Tom Joyner Morning Show:
[photo via BlackAmericaWeb]
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