US President Barack Obama speaks during the Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC on August 28, 2013. The March on Washington is best remembered for King’s stirring vision of a United States free of inequality and prejudice, telecast live to a nation undergoing a phenomenal decade of soul-searching, crisis and change. Credit: AFP/Getty Images
“Yes, there have been examples of success within black America that would have been unimaginable a half-century ago,” the president said at the “Let Freedom Ring” event commemorating the anniversary of the march. “But as has already been noted, black unemployment has remained almost twice as high as white employment, Latino unemployment close behind. The gap in wealth between races has not lessened, it’s grown.”
“There were those elected officials who found it useful to practice the old politics of division, doing their best to convince middle-class Americans of a great untruth, that government was somehow itself to blame for their growing economic insecurity — that distant bureaucrats were taking their hard-earned dollars to benefit the welfare cheat or the illegal immigrant,” Obama said.
But the president went on assess self-defeating problems from the black community itself and racial politics that cut both ways, though he did not mention any names of contemporary leaders.
“And then, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that during the course of 50 years, there were times when some of us, claiming to push for change, lost our way. The anguish of assassinations set off self-defeating riots,” Obama said.
WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 28: A child listens as U.S. President Barack Obama with applause before he addresses the ‘Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action’ honoring the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on the National Mall August 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. The 1963 landmark civil rights event was where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous speech, saying, ‘I still have a dream, a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. ..one day this nation will rise up and live up to its creed, ‘We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream . . .’ Credit: Getty Images
“Legitimate grievances against police brutality tipped into excuse-making for criminal behavior,” Obama said. “Radical politics could cut both ways as the transformative message of unity and brotherhood was drowned out by the language of recrimination and what had once been a call for equality of opportunity, the chance for all Americans to work hard and get ahead was too often framed as a mere desire for government support, as if we had no agency in our own liberation, as if poverty was an excuse for not raising your child and the bigotry of others was reason to give up on yourself.”
“All of that history is how progress stalled. That’s how hope was diverted. It’s how our country remained divided.”
The president said the march went beyond change for just African-Americans, setting a spirit of those who “kept marching.”
“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 disabilities,” Obama continued.