President Obama on Wednesday hailed the civil-rights pioneers who risked so much in the struggle, using the 50th anniversary of the epochal March on Washington to credit them with his own historic election while outlining their unfinished agenda of greater economic security. He also called on today's generation of marchers to "have the courage to change."
"The test was not and never has been whether the doors of opportunity are cracked a bit wider for a few," he said, standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King Jr. stood in 1963 and delivered his renowned "I Have a Dream" speech. "It was whether our economic system provides a fair shot for the many, for the black custodian and the white steelworker, the immigrant dishwasher and the Native American veterans. To win that battle, to answer that call — this remains our great unfinished business."
The president was the final speaker of the day, following to the microphone two former presidents, the children of other presidents, ambassadors, labor leaders, and veterans of decades of civil-rights battles. The theme of most of the speeches on this rainy, overcast day was, as Obama suggested, the work still to be done, the injustices still to be righted, the challenges still to be met. That was expected. No vibrant political movement can spend all its time looking backwards, even on a day designed to commemorate a shining moment in the movement half a century earlier.