President Obama: What Martin Luther King Jr. Would Think About Our Progress [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]

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A: Well, obviously it’s extremely humbling. First of all, yeah, I went into the speech knowing that nothing can match Dr. King’s words, but also the moment. With all the stakes that were so high at the time, you know, the incredible outpouring of support that the civil rights movement received from all across the country from just ordinary folks who, you know, were just sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Q: Right.

A: And were willing to put themselves on the line like that and make enormous sacrifices. And for us, 50 years later, to be able to recognize those accomplishments and take great pride in what our parents and grandparents did, but also understanding we’ve still got work to do ourselves. It was a wonderful moment and hopefully we’ll inspire this generation of young people to get back out there and make sure that they’re doing what they can to create a more just America.

Q: And you always make the connection of jobs and justice.

A: Mm-hmm.

Q: Of course that was the thing back then. How do we do that now?

A: Well, this is the biggest challenge. I think if Dr. King came back today and saw the progress that we made he would say that we’ve made incredible progress in civil rights, in how people are treated, the mere fact that an African-American could be elected President would be mindboggling to him. On the other hand if you looked at the economic situation he would say that, you know, the inequality that still exists, the welfare act that still exists, the inner city poverty that’s still out there. We haven’t made as big a stride on that front as we should have. And I think for us to make real progress on that there’s some things that we’re going to have to do at the federal government level. We’ve made some progress; the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare. That will give healthcare security to people who didn’t have it before. The work that we did to make sure that we provided more Pell grants means more students can access college than ever before. But we’ve also got to do things, for example, setting up early childhood education programs targeting neighborhoods that are having trouble, and helping to rebuild housing, and improve transportation so that businesses want to locate there. Those are all areas where we could be making a difference right now raising the minimum wage which would life people out of poverty. Those are things that require legislative effort. Right now, obviously, there’s a lot of gridlock in Washington, but we just got to keep on pressing, remembering that, you know, it took decades between the time of the Emancipation Proclamation being signed, and the Civil Rights Act being passed, and then it took another couple of decades before the enforcement was real. And, you know, these things take time, but we got to stay persistent and not lose hope.

Q: If you’re just tuning in we are talking face-to-face with our President in the Oval Office. Thank you so much. I love your space. (Chuckle)

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