Politics & Government

Beck, Sharpton to lead rallies on King speech anniversary

People start to gather at the site of the Restoring Honor rally by the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
People start to gather at the site of the Restoring Honor rally by the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Jacquelyn Martin / AP

WASHINGTON — Two large, competing rallies — one mostly white and the other mostly black — will converge on Washington this weekend, each laying claim to the legacy of Martin Luther King on the 47th anniversary of his "I have a dream" speech.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend a rally Saturday at the Lincoln Memorial organized by Fox News TV and radio personality Glenn Beck, who will be joined by 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

For many civil rights leaders, the time and place of the event, titled "Restoring Honor," is an affront.

As Beck and Palin, two of the loudest critics of President Barack Obama, address a sympathetic audience from the same steps where King spoke on Aug. 28, 1963, the Rev. Al Sharpton and other civil rights leaders will conduct a "Reclaiming the Dream" countermarch. Their event will conclude nearby, at the site of the future King memorial.

Sharpton, speaking on his nationally-syndicated radio show Friday, said Glenn Beck's supporters can "do what they want to do." However, he described the talk show host as "the heir to the Barry Goldwaters" and those likely to attend the countermarch as "the children of the dreamers."

"And we are not going back to sleep to another dream," Sharpton said, "We are going to fulfill this dream."

Though it comes ahead of midterm elections that could shift control of one or both houses of Congress to Republicans, who have been buoyed in primaries by the enthusiasm and turnout of tea party supporters, Beck has repeatedly emphasized that the event isn't political.

It is, he says on his website, a tribute to "America's service personnel and other upstanding citizens who embody our nation's founding principles of integrity, truth and honor."

Conscious of the stigma of some of the anti-Obama imagery of tea party rallies during the health care debate this spring, Beck has urged attendees not to bring signs.

Yet Beck, who's called Obama, the nation's first African-American president, a racist, also invited King's niece, Alveda King, who's allied with groups that oppose gay rights and abortion rights, to speak.

Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he had some conversations about what he described as the "in-your-face" choice of the date. However, he said, "these people have a right to rally, and I'm a protector of free speech even when I disagree with what's being said."

Still, he said, "it is kind of ironic."

Friday afternoon, though, many of the people who planned to attend the rally say their aim is to send a message to their elected officials, regardless of what day the event is.

"He's proclaiming and celebrating the life of Martin Luther King, it's a great thing," Marcos Sendon, a Cuban-American who runs a conservative website and who will be accompanied by a group of 25 people from South Florida. "It should not be taken as offensive. It's something to be glad about and rejoice."

Snapping photos of the White House on Friday with his family, 25-year-old Charles Huey of Arnold, Mo., said he sees the event as chance to spend some time with what he described as "fellow patriots." Their message should be loud and clear at down the street at the White House, said Huey, who'll be on the ballot in Missouri in November as a Republican legislative candidate.

"I feel like he has lacked the honor and integrity the presidency had from Washington all the way up to George W. Bush," Huey said of Obama, adding that the rally should be a "wake-up call to all the congressmen and senators and the president to get of their butts and actually start governing."

There's plenty of room on the Mall for all comers, said Theresa Ryckman, 24, who will be at the Beck event Saturday with a friend. Ryckman, of Philadelphia, was wearing a Beck-designed T-shirt with the image of Ben Franklin over the message "Charity." The design was similar to the iconic Shepard Fairey "Hope" portrait of Obama, but the take on the founding fathers is all Beck's own, Ryckman said.

"The progressives have completely perverted our history," Ryckman said. "They have tried to rewrite it in their agenda, just to gain power."

The rally, she said, "will reconnect Americans to our history and our faith," she said. "It's about celebrating America, our heroes, our history, our future."

(Barbara Barrett and Lesley Clark contributed to this article.)

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