Obama uses Martin Luther King speech to call for middle-class justice

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The Rev. Al Sharpton said laws today are written differently than in the era of segregation, “but the results are the same.”

“They come with laws that tell people to stand their ground, they come with laws that tell people to stop and frisk, but I come to tell you that just like our mothers and fathers beat Jim Crow, we will beat James Crow Jr., Esquire,” Mr. Sharpton said.

Melanie Campbell, CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, said minorities have made progress over the past 50 years but added, “We have not arrived.”

“Today, racism and inequality does not manifest itself in a white sheet, Jim Crow laws, poll taxes or barking dogs,” she said. “But the dogs are still biting in other ways. Today, there are no white sheets. But there are judges in black robes in the U.S. Supreme Court who struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, opening the floodgates in many states to pass more voter ID laws to block people of color and young people from voting, with the goal of ensuring we never see another black man elected to the president, or woman, of the United States of America.”

Mr. Carter, 88, decried the state of minority rights in the U.S. today.

“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,” he said. “I think we know how Dr. King would have reacted to America being awash in guns.”

Mr. Clinton noted that King urged the crowd in 1963 “to reach across the racial divide.”

“And then he dreamed, about an America where all citizens would sit together at the table of brotherhood,” Mr. Clinton said. “This march, and that speech, changed America. They opened minds, they melted hearts, and they moved millions, including a 17-year-old boy watching alone at his home in Arkansas. What a debt we owe to those people who came here 50 years ago.”

He also took a mild swipe at Mr. Obama and Congress when he said King would have wanted leaders today to “stop complaining about political gridlock” and put their shoulders to the job of compromise. “Cooperate and thrive, or fight with each other and fall behind,” he said.

Mr. Clinton also said King would be horrified at the state of affairs in the U.S., especially regarding gun violence and voting rights.

“A great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon,” he said.

Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, said advocates of civil rights are guilty of dozing in the struggle over the past 50 years.

“Somewhere along the way, white sheets were traded for button-down white shirts,” Mr. Morial said. “Attack dogs and water hoses were traded for Tasers and widespread implementation of stop-and-frisk policies. Nooses were traded for handcuffs. It is time to wake up.”

Few of the speakers at the podium mentioned Mr. Obama’s victories in 2008 or 2012 as the nation’s first black president. Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, Ohio Democrat and chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, did say there were only five black lawmakers in Congress in 1963, compared with 44 today.

The president chided critics who argued that the civil rights gains of the past 50 years were insignificant.

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