Obama to Pay Tribute to Martin Luther King, Speak to PBS NewsHour

Martin Luther King Jr. The Morning Line

Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed the day’s events would “go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”

King’s dream and legacy are the central focus of a major ceremony Wednesday at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter will join President Barack Obama at a bell-ringing ceremony at 3 p.m. to mark the moment. It’s the culmination of a days long recognition of the March on Washington at 50.

And we’re bringing you a special edition of the Morning Line and breaking the once-a-week recess schedule because at 6 p.m. Eastern we will air Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff’s exclusive interview with President Obama. Don’t miss their Instagram video announcing the news, another first for the NewsHour.

We are posting speeches from Wednesday’s events here.

The co-anchor duo will talk to the president in the Blue Room at the White House, soon after he delivers remarks at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

The Associated Press previewed Wednesday’s events and reported that the president believes now “is a good time to reflect on how far the country has come and how far it still has to go, particularly after the Trayvon Martin shooting trial in Florida.”

And from The Washington Post’s look at the speech: “According to those he has spoken to, Obama will say that gay men and lesbians, women’s rights advocates, immigration activists, and African Americans must come together as a coordinated political movement to defendrights in peril, particularly at the ballot box, and to secure new ones in such areas as marriage equality and criminal sentencing.” In a radio interview Tuesday with Tom Joyner and Sybil Wilkes Mr. Obama said his aim 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.” He said a way to honor King is to do “the day-to-day work to make sure this is a more equal and more just society.”

King “would be amazed in many ways about the progress that we’ve made,” the president said.

Mr. Obama added:

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.

Five decades ago, King stood at the Lincoln Memorial to outline his vision for how his dream could be achieved through nonviolent means.

He declared: “We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”

Consider how Mr. Obama used the “fierce urgency of now” phrase to frame his presidential candidacy less than six years ago, in remarks at Democratic events in Iowa and across the country.

From his speech to the Democratic National Committee in November 2007:

I am not in this race to fulfill some long-held ambitions or because I believe it’s somehow owed to me. I never expected to be here, I always knew this journey was improbable. I’ve never been on a journey that wasn’t.

I am running in this race because of what Dr. King called “the fierce urgency of now.” Because I believe that there’s such a thing as being too late. And that hour is almost upon us.

I don’t want to wake up four years from now and find out that millions of Americans still lack health care because we couldn’t take on the insurance industry. I don’t want to see that the oceans have risen a few more inches. The planet has reached a point of no return because we couldn’t find a way to stop buying oil from dictators. I don’t want to see more American lives put at risk because no one had the judgment or the courage to stand up against a misguided war before we sent our troops into fight. I don’t want to see homeless veterans on the streets. I don’t want to send another generation of American children to failing schools.

I don’t want that future for my daughters. I don’t want that future for your sons. I do not want that future for America.

I’m in this race for the same reason that I fought for jobs for the jobless and hope for the hopeless on the streets of Chicago; for the same reason I fought for justice and equality as a civil rights lawyer; for the same reason that I fought for Illinois families for over a decade.

Because I will never forget that the only reason that I’m standing here today is because somebody, somewhere stood up for me when it was risky. Stood up when it was hard. Stood up when it wasn’t popular. And because that somebody stood up, a few more stood up. And then a few thousand stood up. And then a few million stood up. And standing up, with courage and clear purpose, they somehow managed to change the world.

That’s why I’m running, Democrats – to give our children and grandchildren the same chances somebody gave me. That’s why I’m running – to keep the American Dream alive for those who still hunger for opportunity, who still thirst for equality. That’s why I’m asking you to stand with me, that’s why I’m asking you to vote for me, that’s why I am asking you to stop settling for what the cynics say we have to accept. In this election – in this moment – let us reach for what we know is possible.

A nation healed. A world repaired. An America that believes again.

We quote from this speech in particular ahead of the president’s remarks at the NewsHour interview today because Mr. Obama will speak about his vision for equality 50 years later. The president will share how far he thinks the nation has come, and the economic and social disparities that remain.

The NewsHour has done a series of pieces tied to the 50-year anniversary, including Gwen’s conversation with Rep. John Lewis, the last living speaker from the 1963 March on Washington. That aired last night. Watch here or below.

Find our extensive and in-depth coverage of the March at 50 here, don’t miss our live stream of Wednesday’s 50th anniversary events, and tune in Wednesday at 6 p.m. eastern to watch our exclusive interview with the president.


During the slow August congressional recess, the NewsHour wanted to examine governing in Washington in an era of gridlock and hyperpartisanship. Jeffrey Brown started the discussion series by speaking with experts who could evaluate today’s Washington through the lens of history. Ray Suarez turned to a study of the people and power structure in Washington with Robert Draper and Mark Leibovich.

The series closed Tuesday night with a look at the people who make Washington the subject of fiction and drama. Jeff interviewed Beau Willimon, the co-creator and writer of the Netflix series “House of Cards” and the writer of the “Ides of March” screenplay, Jay Roach, who directed the comedy “The Campaign” and the television movies “Game Change” and “Recount,” and novelist and critic Thomas Mallon.

Willimon shared his insights about why he created Frances Underwood to be so ruthless, and Roach outlined why truth can sometimes be stranger than fiction.

Watch the final discussion here or below:


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  • Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned Monday that the United States will need to raise the debt limit by mid-October, sooner than previously anticipated. Lew said Tuesday that Mr. Obama “will only accept a clean debt limit increase and won’t entertain the idea of spending cuts equal to the debt limit increase, as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has demanded — or anything else,” the Washington Post reports. For his part, Boehner said at a fundraiser he is preparing for a “whale of a fight” over the debt ceiling.
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NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow

  • NewsHour’s Jenny Marder interviewed a chemistry adviser for the TV series “Breaking Bad.”
  • NewsHour Online Desk Assistant Lauren Ehler highlights the significance of the carousel on the National Mall and its relationship to the March on Washington in this story.
  • Was King’s dream achieved? And what dream do you have for yourself and the U.S.? Visit this post to share your thoughts.
  • Here’s a teaser trailer for NewsHour Weekend, launching Sept. 7.









Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

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