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.
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 Jr. on the 47th anniversary of his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend a rally 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, “Restoring Honor,” is an affront.
As Beck and Palin, two of the loudest critics of President Obama, address an audience on 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.
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Sharpton, speaking on his nationally syndicated radio show Friday, said Beck’s supporters can “do what they want to do.” But he described the talk-show host as “the heir to the Barry Goldwaters,” and those expected for 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 said 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 spring’s health-care debate, Beck urged attendees not to bring signs.
Yet Beck, who has called Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, a racist, also invited King’s niece, Alveda King, who is 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.”
With emotions already high, the work of a largely unknown tea-party blogger, Bruce Majors, has brought them to a fever pitch.
The blog, which first appeared Monday and has been widely viewed and distributed since, warned conservative protesters visiting the nation’s capital to avoid certain subway lines, suggesting they are unsafe, that certain neighborhoods should be avoided, that the city is populated by the world’s refugees — that taxi drivers are often Arab or African — and that generally, visitors should be wary.
And it inspired a satirical map of Washington with all of the city marked unsafe, except for the tiny sliver of the National Mall, home to the Lincoln Memorial. Some people mistakenly assumed the map was put out by Beck rally supporters.
City leaders didn’t see the humor. “Frankly, we need to put an end to that venom,” said Vincent Gray, a member of the District of Columbia Council and a candidate for mayor. “This is a city of 600,000 people — people who enjoy living here, people who pay their taxes.”
Organizers of the Beck rally declined to comment on the blog post.
Friday afternoon, many of the people who planned to attend the rally said their aim is to send a message to their elected officials, regardless of what day the event is.
Beck is “proclaiming and celebrating the life of Martin Luther King; it’s a great thing,” said 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.”
Barbara Barrett and Lesley Clark contributed to this article. Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.