Will Obama soar or bore on Sunday’s King dedication?

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“In King’s time, we couldn’t go to certain schools or be in boardrooms,” he said. “The black church was the only place leaders were trained and developed. Now you have black CEOs, a black president, people from more academic backgrounds, with a more dispassionate style.

“I’m 56 years old. Most of us in my age group, we think the shift is a result of the progress that King made.”

Besides, Mr. Sharpton said, there will always be a place for a rousing, old-fashioned speech, the kind King made into an art form. “You’re dealing with people now who are treated as consumers buying a product instead of people hearing a message,” Mr. Sharpton said. “People who are sold, not moved. Speakers who can get your attention, rather than get you to focus and believe in something. But when you see protests, marches and movements, you see them still led by people that speak with passion.

“So I think there’s a hunger for it. Even sometimes when people don’t know what they’re hungry for. People can tell when something’s missing.”

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