WASHINGTON, District of Columbia (AFP) – President Barack Obama will lead his nation in homage Wednesday to Martin Luther King at the spot where the civil rights icon voiced a soaring dream of equality 50 years ago.
In a moment of high symbolism, America’s first black president will reflect on King’s legacy and the long march, which still beckons to fulfill the hopes of the “I have a dream” speech, delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
The event has thrown a spotlight on Obama’s own historic story — which he has said would not have been possible but for King’s crusade to end racial discrimination.
But though his White House tenure marks a pinnacle of African American political achievement, some in the community have criticized the president for devoting insufficient time to a group plagued by deep social problems and barriers to advancement.
Obama made his name in part as a powerful speaker but he faces an almost impossible task to approach the eloquence of the off script “I have a dream” refrain in King’s speech.
He said Tuesday he was still working on his own remarks but quipped “let me just say for the record right now, it won’t be as good as the speech 50 years ago.”
“When you are talking about Dr King’s speech at the March on Washington, you’re talking about one of the maybe five greatest speeches in American history.
“And the words that he spoke at that particular moment, with so much at stake, and the way in which he captured the hopes and dreams of an entire generation I think is unmatched,” Obama said on the Tom Joyner radio show.
Obama argued that King, who was assassinated in 1968, would have been amazed at some of the progress since his remarks in 1963, including towards equal rights before the law for African Americans.