Race isn’t a subject Obama likes to talk about in public, and he does so only when the times require it, such as the speech on race that he gave in 2008 when his presidential campaign was threatened by the anti-American rantings of his Chicago pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Writer.
In his interview Tuesday with Tom Joyner and co-host Sybil Wilkes of the Tom Joyner Morning Show, Obama said he imagines that King “would be amazed in many ways about the progress that we’ve made.” He listed advances such as equal rights before the law, an accessible judicial system, thousands of African-American elected officials, African-American CEOs and the doors that the civil rights movement opened for Latinos, women and gays.
“I think he would say it was a glorious thing,” he said.
But Obama noted that King’s speech was also about jobs and justice. “When it comes to the economy, when it comes to inequality, when it comes to wealth, when it comes to the challenges that inner cities experience, he would say that we have not made as much progress as the civil and social progress that we’ve made, and that it’s not enough just to have a black president, it’s not enough just to have a black syndicated radio show host,” Obama said.
When he was much younger, it took Obama time to embrace his black-white, African and American heritage. He chronicled that personal journey in his best-selling memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” in which he wrote about himself as “the mixed blood, the divided soul, the ghostly image of the tragic mulatto trapped between two worlds.”
After Zimmerman was acquitted, Obama spoke out to help people understand black outrage over the verdict. In unusually personal terms, Obama talked about experiences he shares with so many other black men, before he became a well-known public figure, such as being followed in department stores and hearing the click of car doors being locked as he walked by.
He said the African-American community was looking at the issue “through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”
In Wednesday’s speech, Obama will offer his personal reflections on the civil rights movement, King’s speech, the progress achieved in the past 50 years and the challenges that demand attention from the next generation.
Obama has said King is one of two people he admires “more than anybody in American history.” The other is Abraham Lincoln.