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Fifty years since March on Washington, partisan divide persists

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Posted at 2:54 PM, Aug 26, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-26 14:54:31-04

By CNN Political Unit

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The fiftieth anniversary of the historic March on Washington, celebrated in the nation’s capital this week, is being marked with separate events by Republicans and Democrats as a sharp partisan divide persists on issues of race in America.

Half a decade after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” address, which became a crucial moment in the struggle for civil rights in the U.S., a new national poll indicates a left-right divide over whether King’s dream has been reached. And political issues that involve race, including voting rights and high minority unemployment, continue to split Americans along party lines.

According to Pew Research Center survey released last week, 49% of Americans say that “a lot more” needs to be done to achieve King’s dream, with just over three in ten saying “some more” needs to be done and 16% saying little or nothing needs to be accomplished.

The poll indicates Democrats and Republicans don’t see eye to eye on the question. Thirty-five percent of Republicans surveyed say “a lot more” needs to be done to reach racial equality. That number jumps to 63% among Democrats questioned in the survey, which was conducted in early August.

Louisiana’s Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who in 2008 became the first Indian-American to serve as governor in the country’s history, wrote in Politico Monday that for all the progress made on racial equality since King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, there was still a sense of dividedness among Americans.

“We still place far too much emphasis on our ‘separateness,’ our heritage, ethnic background, skin color, etc,” he wrote. “We live in the age of hyphenated Americans: Asian-Americans, Italian-Americans, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Indian-Americans, and Native Americans, to name just a few. Here’s an idea: How about just ‘Americans?'”

“We are all created in the image of God – skinny, fat, tall, short, dark, light, whatever. Who cares? What does it matter? It’s time to get over it,” he continued. “It’s time for the end of race in America. Now that would be progress.”

Jindal’s essay comes as Republican and Democratic politicians hold separate events to mark the anniversary of King’s speech and the March on Washington, which in 1963 drew hundreds of thousands of Americans to the National Mall in Washington.

A Saturday rally, organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network along with Martin Luther King III and the NAACP, featured speeches from Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, as well as Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights leader who now serves as a Democratic congressman representing parts of Atlanta.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Cory Booker, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in the Garden State, also spoke.

On Wednesday, which will be 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, President Barack Obama will deliver remarks at a rally in the same spot. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter will also attend and address the crowd.

Former President George W. Bush was invited to attend, but declined since he’s recovering from a heart procedure earlier this summer. Bush had a stent placed in his heart on August 6 and left the hospital a day later.

No Republicans are slated to speak at the Wednesday event. Instead, the Republican National Committee is hosting a luncheon Monday to commemorate the anniversary that features the party’s chairman Reince Priebus and prominent African-American Republicans, including T.W. Shannon, the speaker of Oklahoma’s state House of Representatives, and former Rep. Allen West of Florida, who lost his bid for re-election last year.

Also attending the event – Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, the Wisconsin Republican who’s been a leading GOP voice on rewriting portions of the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court gutted its key provisions in June.

Republican lawmakers also marked the march’s anniversary in July, before leaving for August’s recess, with an event in the U.S. Capitol led by House Speaker John Boehner.

CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.

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