President Obama will have an opportunity Sunday not only to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. but to reach out again to African Americans who have been hit particularly hard by the economic downturn.
Obama is scheduled to speak at the official dedication of the King Memorial on the National Mall, the same place where the martyred civil-rights leader gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech in August 1964. The ceremony was originally scheduled for the 48th anniversary date of the King address nearly two months ago, but it was postponed because Hurricane Irene was bearing down on the capital.
Obama is expected to speak about how King's ideals of non-violence, love, justice, and racial equality are still very relevant today. And he is expected to link those ideals to his own use of government to reduce poverty and strengthen the economy. For an interesting analysis of the upcoming speech, read this Huffington Post article from this morning: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/14/mlk-memorial-dedication-o_n_1010499.html
Obama, the first African American president, has been under pressure from some black leaders and activists, including members of Congress, commentators and academics, to develop an agenda specifically designed to help African Americans. But Obama has refused, arguing that his overall agenda will benefit everyone, including blacks. Democratic strategists also say it would be political suicide for him to favor one racial group over another and thereby risk alienating white voters across the country.
This is the same "race-neutral" approach that Obama has taken since he took office. In fact, he made these points in an interview with me for my recent book, Family of Freedom: Presidents and African Americans in the White House. He said, "The legacy I hope to leave is a more prosperous, more secure, more confident America. And if that happens, then I think you're also going to see continued improvement in race relations in this country."
The intensity of Obama's support among African Americans has eroded a bit, partly because of high unemployment in the black community, but he remains popular among most black voters.