African-American leaders denounced TV and radio pundit Glenn Beck’s Tea Party rally next month that will occur on the same date and at the same spot where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech nearly 50 years ago.
And as Beck hosts his “Restoring Honor” event Aug. 28th at the Lincoln Memorial, civil rights organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League and the National Action Network, will hold events to commemorate King’s legacy and the March on Washington.
“It is just an outright attempt to flip the imagery of Dr. King and the imagery of that march, and distort it for some opposite purposes,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, which is hosting the “Reclaim the Dream” rally in Washington, D.C. at the same time as Beck’s “Restoring Honor” event. “They’re not talking about celebrating Dr. King, they’re talking about circumventing him and distorting him.”
But some African-American Tea Party members said there was nothing wrong with Beck holding his “Restoring Honor” rally at the Lincoln Memorial on the 47th anniversary of the March on Washington.
“First of all, nobody owns the message. It’s that simple,” said David Webb, chairman and co-founder of the New York-based Tea Party365. He added, “Everybody can read the speeches Dr. King made. Anyone can look at his writings. I don’t remember them being exclusionary.”
Billed as a non-political, non-partisan fundraiser, the “Restoring Honor” rally “pays tribute to the to America’s service personnel and other upstanding citizens who embody our nation’s founding principles of integrity, truth and honor,” according to a description from Glenn Beck’s website.
“Help us restore the values that founded this great nation.”
It includes an appearance by former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, with some of the proceeds benefitting wounded veterans and the families of fallen military personnel.
Beck did not return a request for comment, but said on his radio show last month that he was not hijacking King’s legacy and would use the rally in part to honor King and the civil rights movement.
But Marc H. Morial, president of the National Urban League, said Beck was trying to re-imagine the meaning of the March on Washington and King’s message and that it was no coincidence that he picked Aug. 28 to host his rally.
“I suspect his intentions are deception and trickery,” Morial said, “and trying to take the imagery of Dr. King and Abraham Lincoln and somehow wrap his agenda of intolerance and division around it.”
Sharpton said the Tea Party movement contradicts what King stood for. King called on the federal government to intervene on civil rights, while the Tea Party advocates for less government oversight, Sharpton said.
“Even if you take race out of this, the whole concept of government that they represent with the Tea Party is the exact opposite of what the concept was in ‘63,” he said.
Scores of Tea Partiers, or members of a loose, conservative coalition opposed to issues like unchecked government spending, high taxation and large government deficits, are expected to attend Beck’s rally from across the country.
“I am aware of it; I’m probably going to be there,” said Frantz Kebreau, national director of the National Association for the Advancement of Conservative People of All Colors. He added, “I don’t think it makes a difference whether it’s on the anniversary. It’s a very special day, but that doesn’t mean that other people should not have their event on that particular day.”
King made history from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963 when he delivered a passionate rallying cry for civil rights in his “I Have a Dream” speech as part of the March on Washington. The march, and King’s call to action, galvanized the U.S. and helped spur lawmakers to pass the Civil Rights Act the following year and the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
“Dr. King stood for a unified America around civil rights, cooperation and tolerance,” Morial said. “Glenn Beck stands for something very different.”
Stefanie Brown, national field director for the NAACP, said Beck’s scheduling his “Restoring Honor” event on the same date and location as the March on Washington was a way to manipulate King’s legacy and that of the civil rights movement for his own benefit.
“What better way to get attention, and to get people riled up and to go to your website and see what you’re talking about than to choose such a date as that?” she asked.
Besides Aug. 28th’s association with King and the March on Washington, on that date in 1955, the body of Emmett Till—the African-American 14-year-old who was lynched in Mississippi after allegedly whistling at a white woman—was found. Aug. 28th is also the date, in 2008, when Barack Obama announced he’d accepted the Democratic nomination for president.
“It’s a travesty that they feel as though [the “Restoring Honor” rally] would be appropriate, on a day that’s really symbolic for people of color,” Brown said.
She said she was particularly alarmed by Beck’s desire to “reclaim” civil rights. That statement, she said, implies that since Beck’s ideological predecessors gave the U.S. the civil rights movement, they could take it away.
“For me, those are very inflammatory words that should not be overlooked,” Brown said.
Webb and Kebreau, the Tea Party members, rejected Brown, Morial and Sharpton’s contentions, and said today’s Tea Party movement was in some ways similar to the civil rights movement.
Webb said those in both the Tea Party and civil rights movements were “driven by a need for fundamental fairness,” and that he expected groups like the National Action Network and the NAACP to oppose Beck’s rally in order to pander to their African-American power base.
Kebreau said Beck is uniting people behind the idea of what America stood for, while King worked to unite people behind a vision of what America was supposed to be.
“What’s interesting about what Glenn Beck and his movement and what he’s trying to do,” Kebreau said, “it’s not, in my opinion, that much different from what was the original intention of civil rights and the civil rights movement in the 1960s for people of color—in that they were demanding equality within society.”
The Tea Party movement has run afoul of African-American leaders in the past. Most notably in March, during debate on the Obama administration’s health care legislation, some Tea Party protesters jeered some members of the Congressional Black Caucus with racist taunts—including civil rights veteran Rep. John Lewis.
However, Kebreau said conservatism was inclusive and had come a long way from what it was decades ago.
“I know a lot of people want to hold onto that mind frame, that the conservative movement of the 1960s is the same movement of today, and I find that completely false,” he said.
Next month’s “Reclaiming the Dream” event will start with a rally at a local high school before culminating with a march to the site of the planned King Memorial, near the Lincoln Memorial. Martin Luther King III is also lending his support, Morial said.
The NAACP was also exploring hosting events in various U.S. cities on Aug. 28th, Brown said.
The rally won’t be a means to confront Beck and his supporters, Sharpton said, but will highlight King’s dream of equal rights for all, the fact that it remains unfulfilled and show support for other causes, including immigration rights, women’s rights and worker’s rights.
“August 28th is our moment in history,” he said, “and we should not let it be hijacked by those who don’t even believe in the dream or the form of government of the dream.”