By Julie Mason
President Barack Obama has called Martin Luther King Jr. his North Star — a standard of “bold leadership and prophetic eloquence.” During the 2008 campaign, he said he would never have gotten as far were it not for the civil rights movement. “I stand on the shoulders of giants,” he said in a speech in Selma, Ala.
But when it comes to many of the aging leaders who marched with King, the relationship is more complicated. Obama, for the most part, has kept the civil rights movement’s old guard at arm’s length. They, in turn, are wary, their sense that the election of the first black president represented the ultimate success of the movement now tinged with disappointment that Obama has not more aggressively confronted issues of economic inequality.
“Treat him as you would any other president — none in my lifetime has totally satisfied me,” said Julian Bond, the longtime activist and former chairman of the NAACP who once was a student of King’s at Morehouse College.
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