WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Barack Obama joked that his address marking the 50th anniversary of the historic “I Have A Dream” speech “won’t be as good” as Dr. Martin Luther King’s original.
King’s 1,600-word address — arguably one of the most important speeches of the 20th century — became a crucial moment in the struggle for civil rights in the U.S.
The president also said in an interview on the Tom Joyner Morning Show that ran Tuesday that if King were alive today, he’d be “amazed in many ways about the progress that we’ve made.”
But Obama added that King would not be satisfied.
“When it comes to the economy, when it comes to inequality, when it comes to wealth, when it comes to the challenges that inner cities experience, he would say that we have not made as much progress as the civil and social progress that we’ve made, and that it’s not enough just to have a black President,” said Obama.
The president gives the concluding speech at Wednesday’s event at the Lincoln Memorial, the site of King’s address in 1963.
Here are the comments the president made about King in his interview with Tom Joyner and co-host Sybil Wilkes:
TOM JOYNER: We are in the Oval Office with the President on the day before he does his speech for the — commemorating the I Have A Dream speech. Is it ready?
THE PRESIDENT: Not quite yet. Still working on it. But let me just say for the record right now, it won’t be as good as the speech 50 years ago. (Laughter.) I just want to get that out there early. Because when you are talking about Dr. King’s speech at the March on Washington, you’re talking about one of the maybe five greatest speeches in American history. And the words that he spoke at that particular moment, with so much at stake, and the way in which he captured the hopes and dreams of an entire generation I think is unmatched.
And so all I can do on an occasion like this is just to celebrate the accomplishments of all of those folks whose shoulders we stand on and then remind people that the work is still out there for us to do, and that we honor his speech but also, more importantly in many ways, the organization of the ordinary people who came out for that speech. We honor them not by giving another speech ourselves — because it won’t be as good — but instead by just doing the day-to-day work to make sure this is a more equal and more just society.
TOM JOYNER: Fifty years later, what do you think Dr. King would have said about our progress and his dream?
THE PRESIDENT: I think that Dr. King would be amazed in many ways about the progress that we’ve made. I don’t think that he would look and say nothing has changed. He would say, the fact that we have equal rights before the law; the fact that the judicial system and the courts are accessible; and that African-Americans serve on juries; and that we have thousands of African-American elected officials all across the country; and that we’ve got African-American CEOs of Fortune 100 companies; and we have a large thriving congressional black caucus, and that, as a consequence of some of the doors that he and others helped kick down, Latinos and women and Asians and the disabled and gays and lesbians, that they all also suddenly found a seat at the table — I think he would say it was a glorious thing.
What he would also say, though, is that the March on Washington was about jobs and justice. And that when it comes to the economy, when it comes to inequality, when it comes to wealth, when it comes to the challenges that inner cities experience, he would say that we have not made as much progress as the civil and social progress that we’ve made, and that it’s not enough just to have a black President, it’s not enough just to have a black syndicated radio show host. The question is, does the ordinary person, day-to-day, can they succeed. And we have not made as much progress as we need to on that, and that is something that I spend all my time thinking about, is how do we give opportunity to everybody so if they work hard they can make it in this country.
™ & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved