WASHINGTON — Washington marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with Oprah, three presidents and a notable lack of Republican speakers.
Former President George W. Bush was invited to join Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, but was unable to attend as he’s still recovering from heart surgery. Bush released a lengthy statement today marking the anniversary.
“Dr. King was on this Earth just 39 years, but the ideals that guided his life of conscience and purpose are eternal,” the 43rd president said. ”Honoring him requires the commitment of every one of us. There’s still a need for every American to help hasten the day when Dr. King’s vision is made real in every community – when what truly matters is not the color of a person’s skin, but the content of their character.”
The office of Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) confirmed that the only African-American senator currently in Congress was not invited to speak at the event.
“The senator believes today is a day to remember the extraordinary accomplishments and sacrifices of Dr. King, Congressman John Lewis and an entire generation of black leaders,” a Scott spokesman said.
Scott did mark the occasion with an op-ed in The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C.
“When people ask what motivates me or drives me to serve the public good, I have a simple yet complex answer: I am living my mother’s American Dream. That dream was strengthened by the efforts of Dr. King, Congressman John Lewis and the countless other civil rights leaders who gave so much to build a better future. And nowhere were those efforts more clear than in the messages that came out of the March on Washington,” Scott wrote.
“…Everyone deserves the opportunity to succeed. Every parent deserves the chance to see his or her children grow up in a brighter world. And all men are created equal.”
Veterans of the 1963 march led a crowd down Constitution Avenue toward the final rally point at the mall.
Speakers included some of those march veterans who now serve on Capitol Hill: Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Donna Edwards (D-Md.) and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine).
Also taking the podium were members of MLK’s family, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s daughter Lynda, Caroline Kennedy, Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), former UN Ambassador Andrew Young, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), NAACP president Ben Jealous, Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), AFSCME union boss Lee Saunders, Urban League president Marc Morial, SEIU union boss Mary Kay Henry, former NAACP chairman Julian Bond, and actor Jamie Foxx.
“I’m going to tell you right now that everybody my age and all the entertainers, it’s time for us to stand up now and renew this dream. That’s what we got to do. I was affected by — I was affected by the Trayvon Martin situation. I was affected by Newtown. I was affected by Sandy Hook. I’m affected by those things. So it’s time for us now to pick up,” Foxx said.
“…What we need to do now is the young folks pick it up now so that when we’re 87 years old talking to the other young folks we can say it was me, Will Smith, Jay Z, Kanye, Alicia Keys, Kerry Washington. The list goes on and on. Don’t make me start preaching up here,” he added.
Lewis admonished the crowd to remember that even though there is still work to do, “we have come a great distance in this country in the 50 years.”
“Sometimes I hear people saying, nothing has changed, but for someone to grow up the way I grew up in the cotton fields of Alabama to now be serving in the United States Congress, makes me want to tell them, come and walk in my shoes,” the congressman said. “Come walk in the shoes of those who were attacked by police dogs, fire hoses, and nightsticks, arrested and taken to jail. I first came to Washington in the same year that President Barack Obama was born to participate in a Freedom Ride.”
“…We truly believe that in every human being, even those who were violent toward us, there was a spark of the divine. And no person had the right to scar or destroy that spark. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us the way of peace, the way of love, the way of nonviolence,” Lewis continued. “He taught us to have the power to forgive, the capacity to be reconciled.”
Lewis met and made peace in 2009 with Elwin Wilson, a former Ku Klux Klan member who came to Lewis’ office and confessed to beating the young Freedom Rider in 1961. “We can all learn a valuable lesson from the life of this one man,” Lewis said upon Wilson’s passing this April. “He demonstrates to all of us that we fall down, but we can get up.”