News / USA

Obama: Economic Justice Remains Unfinished Business for America

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington August 28, 2013.
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington August 28, 2013.
Addressing hundreds of thousands of people commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for civil rights, President Barack Obama Wednesday referred to "unfinished business" in the struggle for equality and justice in America.
 
Fifty years after Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech at a time of severe racial injustice and inequality in America, the nation's first black president stood in the same place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
 
In 1963, King's address energized the civil rights movement and paved the way for major legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed major forms of discrimination against minorities and women.
 
Obama paid tribute to the late civil rights leader and the sacrifices of those who marched in Washington to bring transformation to America.
 
"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.  Because they marched, city councils changed, and state legislatures changed and Congress changed, and, yes, eventually the White House changed," said Obama.
 
March brought many changes

The U.S. president continued that those who marched in 1963 brought change not just for African Americans, but other racial and ethnic groups, women and gay Americans, and for those yearning for freedom around the world.
 
"America changed for you and for me, and the entire world drew strength from that example, whether it be 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."
 
Obama's address marked one of only a few occasions since he was first elected to the White House in 2008 that he has spoken on a national stage about issues of race.
 
It also came amid new concerns about setbacks to civil rights from, among other things, the recent Supreme Court decision striking down a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Obama said those who suggest little has changed in America dishonor the sacrifice of those who marched in 1963. 
 
Work to be done
 
At the same time, he said the work is not complete. He noted challenges to voting rights, high unemployment rates for African-Americans and Latinos, and other problems he said require vigilance.
 
"To secure the gains that this country has made requires constant vigilance, not complacency, whether by challenging those who erect new barriers to the vote, or ensuring that the scales of justice work equally for all, and the criminal justice system is not simply a pipeline from under-funded schools to overcrowded jails.  It requires vigilance."
 
Obama referred to a growing wealth gap among races, and the eroding position of working Americans, something he said makes the dream that King described "more elusive."
 
The president also decried what he called "the politics of division" in Washington.
 
"We now have a choice.  We can continue down our current path in which the gears of this great democracy grind to a halt and our children accept a life of lower expectations, where politics is a zero-sum game, where a few do very well while struggling families of every race fight over a shrinking economic pie.  That's one path.  Or we can have the courage to change," said Obama.

  • From left, former President Jimmy Carter, former President Bill Clinton, former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, first lady Michelle Obama, and President Barack Obama stand for the national anthem during a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington,  Aug. 28,2013.
  • Three women who attended marches in the past, from left, Armanda Hawkins of Memphis, Vera Moore of Washington, and Betty Waller Gray of Richmond, Va., (holding sign) listen to the speakers during the March on Washington, Aug. 28, 2013, at the Lincoln Memorial.
  • The group Junkaroo performs at the Let Freedom Ring ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Aug. 28, 2013, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Aug. 28, 2013.
  • Crowds gather on the National Mall to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, August 28, 2013.
  • Martin Luther King III speaks during a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of his father Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, August 28, 2013. 
  • People gather around the reflecting pool near the Lincoln Memorial, Aug. 28, 2013, to listen to President Barack Obama speak during the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
  • President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, former president Bill Clinton and former president Jimmy Carter arrive at the Let Freedom Ring ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial, Aug. 28, 2013, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington.
  • Former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton arrive at the Let Freedom Ring ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Aug. 28, 2013.
  • Stanley Samuels, Rita Samuels and Sammie Whiting-Ellis wait for the anniversary program to begin as they attend the March on Washington, in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, August 28, 2013.
  • Actor Jamie Foxx speaks during a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, August 28, 2013. 
  • A woman stands in the crowd taking part in the anniversary of the March on Washington, August 28, 2013. (R. Green/VOA)
  • Marchers stand in the rain in front of the Washington Monument, August 28, 2013. (R. Green/VOA)
  • Crowds gather for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, August 28, 2013. (D. Manis for VOA)
  • A man sells souvenir shirts for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, August 28, 2013. (D. Manis for VOA)

A long list of speakers including present-day civil rights leaders, a son and daughter of King, and television and movie stars, also addressed the crowd on the National Mall.
 
‘Sour’ political atmosphere

Former president Bill Clinton spoke about the sour national political atmosphere.
 
"We don't face beatings, lynchings and shootings for our political beliefs anymore, and I would respectively suggest that Martin Luther King did not live and die to hear his heirs whine about political gridlock.  It is time to stop complaining and put our shoulders against the stubborn gates holding the American people back," said Clinton.
 
Former president Jimmy Carter criticized the Supreme Court decision striking down the key provision of the Voting Rights Act.
 
"I believe we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to the new ID requirements to exclude certain voters, especially African Americans.  I think we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to the Supreme Court striking down a crucial part of the Voters Rights Act just recently passed overwhelmingly by Congress,” said Carter.
 
John Lewis, the last surviving member of the leadership of the March on Washington in 1963, pointed to progress, but said racism remains embedded in American society.
 
King's youngest child, Rev. Bernice King, spoke about her father's message in 1963 to "Let Freedom Ring," but said despite great strides, more work remains.
 
"Today, 50 years later, my friends, we are still crippled by practices and policies steeped in racial pride, hatred and hostility, some of which have us standing our ground rather than finding common ground," said King.
 
President Obama's speech came as he faces one of the momentous decisions of his presidency, whether to launch a military strike on Syria in response to the what the United States believes was the use of chemical weapons there.

Related report by Carolyn Presutti:

Key US Civil Rights Event Rememberedi
X
August 29, 2013 11:54 AM
Fifty years ago on August 28 tens of thousands of Americans marched for civil rights in the U.S….it was the biggest march of its kind. The rally in the nation's capital ended with civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. giving his historic 'I Have a Dream' speech. VOA's Carolyn Presutti explains what that effort means for Americans gathered this year to hear the nation's most prominent African American give a speech at the same location.

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs