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Conservative Political Rally Stirs US Civil Rights Activists

Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln Memorial

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It was 47 years ago that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famed "I Have A Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.  The 1963 March on Washington was intended to change the racial divide in the country between blacks and whites.  By contrast, a different type of rally planned for the site, on the August 28 anniversary of the speech this year, has stirred racial tensions.

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.  We hold to these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal."

Delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King's famous "I Have A Dream" speech 47 years ago changed the country,  and brought about greater racial harmony between blacks and whites.  More than a quarter of a million people gathered for that march on Washington on August 28, 1963.

Howard University Political Science Professor Lorenzo Morris says it was a defining moment for the U.S. Civil Rights movement and the country's history.

"The 1963 March on Washington set not only a value framework for the minorities who participated and the progressive whites who joined African-Americans, but also for the nation.  Its acceptance after the fact meant that the nation had to change directions not just because of the laws, but because we recognized the shared values of greater racial and social integration," Lorenzo said.

Decades later, social and civil rights activists are upset that Glenn Beck - a popular conservative commentator and talk show host - is holding a large-scale rally at the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of King's speech.  They accuse Beck and followers of the conservative "Tea Party" political movement of deliberately picking the date to distort King's message.

Rick Turner of the NAACP says Beck and elements of the Tea Party movement are using an icon like King to create division.

"Their philosophy is diametrically opposed to those of Dr. Martin Luther King, and his legacy and his message," Turner said.

Virginia Tea Party member Carole Thorpe says while she understands the concerns of some civil rights activists that the purpose of the event, named "Restoring Honor," is something everyone can support. "I'm sensitive to the sensitivity people who think this it is a bad idea and something that's offensive to them. It's non political, it's non partisan. It's to honor the U.S. military," she stated.

Glenn Beck says it is a coincidence his rally is taking place on the anniversary of the March on Washington.  He says the organizers initially planned to hold it on September 12th, but changed the date so more people could attend.  But critics like the NAACP's Rick Turner say it is also inappropriate that the National Rifle Association is a partial sponsor of the event, considering that Martin Luther King was assassinated by gunshot.

"There is enough room at the Lincoln Memorial for other groups.  It is a big place," Turner said. "But I think it is a poke in the eye of the civil-rights movement and the legacy of Martin Luther King."

Neither Beck nor the NRA have commented on that point of criticism.  Despite their claim of coincidence, Professor Morris says, he thinks Glenn Beck and supporters of the Tea Party movement realize the importance of the anniversary of Dr. King's Speech.

"Glenn Beck and others today want to do something to steal part of that legacy.  The praise of the legacy indicates its importance.  They want to somehow transform it or to distort it into something that the people they represent shared in, rather than in some ways resisted," Morris said.

Civil-rights activist Al Sharpton and his National Action Network along with the NAACP, the largest U.S. civil-rights organization, will also hold a march nearby - saying they want the true legacy of Dr. King's Dream to be remembered.

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