Meet the Press   |  August 25, 2013

1: 50 years later, MLK's message resonates

Lawmakers and pundits gather on a special edition of Meet the Press to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years after the 1963 March on Washington.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> this sunday special "meet the press." the american dream .

>> i have a dream .

>> 50 years ago this week, dr. martin luther king jr . changed history with his i have a dream speech. he had a vision for equality and economic progress and issued a challenge to america -- to live up to its democratic ideals . how does america measure up today? i'll ask our guests, civil rights pioneer and georgia congressman john lewis , mayor of newark, new jersey, cory booker , and develop nor of louisiana, bobby jindal . also, we'll explore the overall state of american dream -- civil rightses, the struggle of the middle classes , issues at the heart of our political debate . our roundtable weighs in. host of msnbc's "politics nation," the reverend al sharpton , pulitzer prize -winning journalist sheryl wudunn , republican congressman from idaho, raul labrador, and unique perspective from historian doris kearns goodwin as well as "new york times" columnist david brooks . i'm david gregory . all that ahead on "meet the press" this sunday, august 25th . good sunday morning. thousands of people gathered here in washington saturday to re-create the march on washington where dr. king gave his famous i have a dream speech. and it was exactly 50 years ago today, august 25th , 1963 , that dr. king and the executive secretary of the naacp, roy wilkins , appeared right here on "meet the press." many of you either already had the chance or will have the opportunity to see that special program as we have made it the original broadcast available to our nbc stations across the country. our roundtable joins us in just a moment. but first joining me now, the only living speaker from the march on washington , congressman john lewis . he spoke yesterday in front of the lincoln memorial .

>> you cannot stand by. you cannot sit down. you've got to stand up, speak up, speak out, and get in the way, make some noise!

>> congressman lewis, welcome back to "meet the press."

>> thank you very much, david, for having me.

>> what a moment. we actually have the two images. there you were 50 years ago as a 23-year-old speaking so powerfully and 50 years later an elder statesman, sir, if you don't mind ne saying.

>> i don't mind.

>> a pioneer of the civil rights struggle. that had to be quite a moment.

>> it was a moving moment to stand there in the same spot 50 years later where dr. king and others stood. i think in the past 50 years we have witnessed what i'd like to call the nonviolent revolution in america , a revolution of values, a revolution of ideas, and our country is a better country.

>> you know, the president will speak on wednesday in the same spot. he'll mark 50 years since the i have a dream speech. we've talked over the years, and you told me about a year and a half ago in your view a lot of people can't get comfortable with the idea of an african- american president even though what a testament to the progress and the dream that dr. king had. and you even said during your speech yesterday there are forces, there are people who want to take us back. what specifically are you talking about?

>> well, i hear people over and over again saying we want to take our country back. take it back where? where are we going? we need to go forward. we've made so much progress. i often think -- when i was growing up, i thought it was science that said white men, colored men, white women , colored women, colored waiting, those signs are gone. when i first came to washington in 1961 , the same year that president barack obama was born, to go on the freedom ride , black people and white people couldn't be seated on a bus or a train together to travel through the south. so can our children grow up and their children grow up, they will not see those signs. the only place that they would see those signs would be in a book, in a museum, or on a video.

>> do you see some of the same trappings of resentment and fear in our modern-day politics? is that what you're warning of when you see some of those forces coming back?

>> well, i think there is some forces want to create this sense of fear. they think the country is moving too fast or maybe becoming too progressive. the country is not the same country. people coming together. and in a short time, the minority will be the majority.

>> is there backlash that comes with that in your judgment?

>> well, i think, as americans , we must be prepared to make the adjustment and not be afraid. be courageous. be embracive. embrace a change.

>> as you look at dr. king's message 50 years ago and we remember that it was a march on washington for jobs and freedom , one aspect of dr. king's dream has not been realized and that is economic equality . he spoke on this 50 years ago. he said you've got to have social equality before you can have economic equality . there is more social equality for ausms. look at the statistics. back in 1963 , the rate of employment among african- americans twice that of whites. that was 1963 . page ahead to today, it's still twice that of whites. that's got to trouble you.

>> it is very troublesome. we have a lot of work to do. the dream is not yet fulfilled.

>> do you blame anyone in particular? because through republican leadership and democratic leadership, you still see the state of affairs.

>> well, this president, barack obama , has been trying to get the congress to move in a dramatic way to create jobs, to put people back to work, but it's all of our responsibility, not just those in elected positions but it's the business community , education institutions. we all must play a role in putting people back to work.

>> final question. the president will speak in the very spot that dr. king spoke 50 years to the day. one of his critics, tavis smiley , african-american who's criticized the president consistently. he talked about his hope that the president would be king-like but not king-like. he doesn't want time this to just echo the words but wants him to have a specific set of proposals. what do you expect from the president?

>> well, the president is the president. he's not a civil rights leader. there's a difference. president johnson , president kenne kennedy sat with us from time to time. when i met with president kennedy and later president johnson , part of the so-called big six, they would say make me do it. make me say yes when i may have a desire to say no. create the climate. create year-to-date the environment. it is never up to the civil rights community to get out there and push and pull .

>> you are a live testament to the idea that you've got to make some noise in this society and you've done that. i really appreciate your time here this morning.

>> thank you very much.

>> thank you, congressman.

>>> reverend al sharpton organized the march yesterday along with dr. king's eldest son. sharpton spoke to the tens of thousands gathered on the mall on saturday.

>> we believe in a new america ! it's time to march for a new america ! it's time to organize for a new america ! it's time to register and vote for a new america ! we're on our way, we're on our way, we are on our way!

>> and our roundtable is now here. welcome to all of you, including doris kearns goodwin , who i just want to point out has been well, alive and well . you've just been in hibernation working on your new book. good to see you.

>> correct. glad to be back.

>> reverend al sharpton , a significant day for you and others yesterday associated with that march. 50 years ago 50shgs years after the march on washington , how does dr. king's message relate today?

>> i think his message relates in the sense that it laid the chart -- it charted the way from where we are. a black president , black attorney general who spoke at the march yesterday. but it also raised a challenge for this generation that we talked about yesterday. the supreme court just took away section 4, the voting rights act , which means that we challenge the congress now to come with a new voting rights bill, because this is the first time in 48 years that we do not have free clearance in areas that have a history of discrimination. a jobs bill. the economic inequality today is the same as it was 50 years ago. so i think this generation of civil rights leader and the civil rights community must challenge the economic inequality , the regression on voting rights , as well as deal with some of the gun violence and the internal problems in our own community.

>> dr. king again on this program 50 years ago, he spoke about the highway of freedom and all its dimensions, moving up that highway of freedom. doris kearns goodwin , you were there 50 years ago, which is remarkable since you're only 27 now.

>> hooray.

>> i spoke to taylor branch , the historian of the era, and he talks about dr. king as a modern founding father. here's a portion of my conversation with him.

>> the founders confronted at the beginning of america a hierarchy, kings, monarchs, and they figured out a way to promote equal citizenship, to found us on the idea that we have equal votes and equal souls. and they moved us in that direction, and so did lincoln and the people -- the best, highest patriots have done that, and that's certainly what the civil rights movement did and dr. king did.

>> the meaning of that moment today.

>> i think there's no question that taylor branch is right. there are -- it's a straight line from martin luther king backward to lincoln , backward to the founding phatters. they created an ideal of the country founded on the idea that all men were created equal . they knew all men were not created equal . we had slavery. but they mu we'd force ousts to move forward it. lincoln moved us forward. martin luther king 100 years later got us further to that ideal. what was so special about that march when i was a college student , i remember the day , i remember the singing, i remember the worry before hand about whether there'd be mob violence . but most of all i remember the exhilaration, a feeling i was part of something larger than myself. we were helping to make the country a better place . and despite the fact that the '60s degenerated into riots later, assassinations, the vietnam war , there was something about that hopefulness in the early '60s. it stayed with me my whole life. and that's what you have to re-create today, the idea we can change the country, nonviolent movement, leadership, did it then, civil war did it in an earlier time, the framers did it at the beginning. we have a generation that can do it now.

>> can i pay tribute to the two men who organized the march, especially randolf, a man of immense dignity, who believed in peaceful, direct options. you go after your opponents relently. superior emotional discipline and self-control and force them, the racists in that count, to display their own evil and transfer the whole debate that way by a superior dignity. that was part of what the march did, took a strategy deeply thought through and expressed to the nation and showed how you made social change .

>> sheryl wudunn , you won a pulitzer prize covering china, particularly the demonstrations in tiananmen square . the resonance that you saw covering tiananmen square of that 1963 march.

>> oh, absolutely. look, absolutely, martin luther king 's speech was the greatest speech of the 20th century so it had to have an effect around the world. the underlying need for better jobs, better -- you know, life and also freedom was very strong. a chinese student leader actually invoked martin luther king has his role model during the tiananmen square movement. but most kids, they would say something like, one student told me, democracy, yes, i don't know much about it but i know we need more of it.

>> it's interest, reverend, the tension at the time, and again it plays out in this special rebroadcast on nbc when you saw dr. king with roy wilkins . to david's point, you saw dr. king so poised and unflappable facing questions of potential violence in washington . but there was tension about the value of that kind of demonstration, mass demonstration in the street, and how it made african- americans look and appear to a largely white america .

>> it's ironic that people don't understand mrs. king, who i've got to know well -- i was too young to know dr. king -- talked about how controversial he was during his lifetime and those tactics of randolph and rustin. people always said you're causing violence, stirring things up, and you're moving too fast, and i think that upon his death people gave him credit for things that he never heard in life. and in many ways we hear today some of the same kinds of attacks. certainly no one's on the scale that they were, but the same kinds of things, that why don't y'all do it another way, when these are the ways you dramatize the problem. marches are not set to solve a problem. they're set to show the problem and force someone to solve it.

>> we're going to come back with all of you in a few minutes because, in addition to marking history this morning, we wanted to try to expand our conversation and talk about the american dream . that's what dr. king talked about. it was rooted in american dream . we'll have more on that with you in a few minutes.

>>> coming up, two rising stars in their respective parties, democratic mayor of newark, new jersey, cory booker , and republican governor of louisiana bobby jindal . what the american dream means to a new generation of politicians.

>>> and later, we'll have the latest on the developing situation in syria. new developments this morning. we've got it covered.