Carter reflected on King’s support in the 1976 presidential campaign. “Every handshake from Dr. King…every hug from Coretta got me a million Yankee votes,” he said.
“I believe we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to the new I.D. 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 Voting Rights Act just recently passed overwhelming by Congress,” Carter continued.
“I think we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to unemployment among African-Americans being almost twice the rate of white people, and for teenagers at 42 percent. I think we would all know how Dr. King would have reacted to our country being awash in guns and for more and more states passing stand your ground laws.”
Clinton said MLK’s landmark address “moved millions, including a 17-year-old boy watching alone in his home in Arkansas.”
“Dr. King’s dream of interdependence, his prescription of whole-hearted cooperation across racial lines, they ring as true today as they did 50 years ago,” he said. “Oh, yes, we face terrible political gridlock now. Read a little history. It’s nothing new. Yes, there remain racial inequalities in employment, income, health, wealth, incarceration and in the victims and perpetrators of violent crime. But we don’t face beatings, lynchings and shootings for our political beliefs anymore. And I would respectfully 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.”
Clinton then pushed into a handful of political issues including healthcare and voter ID, saying “a great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon.”
“Let us not forget that while racial divides persist and must not be denied, the whole American landscape is littered with the lost dreams and dashed hopes of people of all races,” he added. “…The choice remains as it was on that distant summer day 50 years ago. Cooperate and thrive, or fight with each other and fall behind.”
Obama aimed for a philosophical speech after the King family rang the bell that was retrieved from the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, 1963.
“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 said. “…People who could have given up and given in, but kept on keeping on, knowing that weeping may endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning.”
“Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Martin Luther King, Jr. — they did not die in vain. Their victory was great. But we would dishonor those heroes as well to suggest that the work of this nation is somehow complete. The arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own,” the president continued. “…Yes, there have been examples of success within black America that would have been unimaginable a half-century ago. 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.”
“The march on Washington teaches us that we are not trapped by the mistakes of history; that we are masters of our fate. But it also teaches us that the promise of this nation will only be kept when we work together. We’ll have to reignite the embers of empathy and fellow-feeling, the coalition of conscience that found expression in this place 50 years ago. I believe that spirit is there. That true force inside each of us. I see it when a white mother recognizes her own daughter in the face of a poor black child. I see it when the black youth thinks of his own grandfather in the dignified steps of an elderly white man.… When the when the interracial couple connects the pain of a gay couple who are discriminated against and understands it as their own. That is where courage comes from.”