Some of the nation's top civil rights leaders are angrily accusing right-wing media star Glenn Beck of "hijacking" the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech by planning to rally his conservative forces at the same Lincoln Memorial site on the anniversary date of Aug. 28 -- and so they are planning a counter-rally and march of their own.
"Beck is hijacking the imagery and symbolism of August 28 and the Lincoln Memorial to promote an agenda of intolerance," said Marc H. Morial, the former New Orleans mayor who is now president and CEO of the National Urban League, one of the counter-rally organizers, said earlier tonight in a telephone interview.
The Morial-led Urban League is teaming with well-known activists such as the Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network in planning a "mass rally" and march that will begin at a high school in Northeast Washington. Morial said that one of King's surviving children, Martin Luther King III, is also on board.Less than three miles away, the Fox News Channel host and former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin are headlining a heavily promoted rally called "Restoring Honor."
Morial said in the phone interview that civil rights leaders believe that "Beck is deliberately trying to poke a stick in our eye, or kick sand in our faces" by holding the rally on the 47th anniversary and at the spot of King's most famous speech, at a massive rally to lobby support for what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that ended legal segregation in America.
Beck claimed earlier this month on his radio show that one of his goals is to "reclaim the civil right movement," saying that it should be about individual liberties and not social justice or supporting undocumented immigration, which he called "modern day slavery." But as Beck's popularity has risen since launching his Fox News program the same week that Barack Obama became the nation's first African-American president -- angering many with attacks linking Obama to socialism or communism and also triggering outrage with his comment that the president has "a deep-seated hatred for white people."
Sharpton couldn't be reached last night, but he was recently quoted telling the National Newspaper Publishers Association in New York that Beck is attempting to rewrite American history on King and civil rights, and that he's hoping for a large crowd to counteract the conservative talker.
"[W]e've been traveling all over this country because there is no way in the world that I am going to allow him to have more people there than us," Sharpton was quoted by Blackvoicenews.com. "I hope every black person in the country will help us to challenge this.Everybody's got to be in Washington. We can't let them hijack Dr. King's dream."
Morial said in the interview that Beck and some of the growing right-wing groups that support him, such as the Tea Party and the Beck-inspired 9.12 Project, want to take America back to a time before King's speech and the enactment of civil rights laws and to show a face of the nation that is not the multi-cultural country we've become in the 21st Century.
"His [Beck's] vision of America is a vision of America from yesterday and our vision is an America of tomorrow that builds on yesterday," Morial said. I asked Morial about the oft-repeated plea from Tea Party activists that "I want my country back" and he replied, "It's cold. It's not just their country -- it's our country."
According to the online report from NNPA convention in New York, the national NAACP is also on board with the Aug. 28 counter-rally and is also working with labor unions on a second march on Washington for Oct. 2. Morial said that activists want to encourage the federal government to do more in support of jobs as the national unemployment rate continues to hover near 10 percent, with jobless rates that are higher for blacks and other minorities, and also to improve public education.
The purpose of the Beck rally across town is somewhat vague. When it was first announced by Beck months ago, he suggested it would be a political rally as well as the launch of a book that he called "The Plan" that would be an 100-year blueprint for America -- but the nature of the Aug. 28 event radically changed after Beck teamed with a highly-rated charity, the Special Operations Warrior Fund, to help raise some of the $2 million he says is needed to stage a rally at the Lincoln Memorial (Beck says he is donating the first $1 million himself.)
Now, the "Restoring Honor" rally is billed is as "a non-political, non-partisan event will recognize our First Amendment rights and honor the service members who fight to protect those freedoms." Beck is hoping to defray $1 million of the rally costs through an aggressive campaign seeking $1 million through the Florida-based charity, which normally fund scholarships for children of soldiers killed or wounded in action. (Beck has said any donations above the $1 million will go to the scholarships.)
In addition to Palin, Beck has said the three-hour rally will include a mini-concert by country artist Jo Dee Messina and decorated veteran Marcus Luttrell.
One thing that Aug. 28 in the nation's capital will not feature, according to Morial, is any kind of direct confrontation between his group and the Beck rally. "There's no interest on our side in a confrontation," he said, "other than a confrontation of ideas."