Civil Rights Leaders Skeptical Of Glenn Beck's Rally

Glenn Beck and his supporters are staging a "Restoring Honor" rally Saturday at the Lincoln Memorial. That happens to be the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. Civil rights leaders are not happy. The event is billed as nonpolitical, but it is headlined by former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And Im Linda Wertheimer.

It's been a busy week for political junkies with primaries across the nation, and the politicking will continue this weekend. In a few moments we'll ask two strategists to take stock of where the two parties now stand, as we head toward the November elections.

MONTAGNE: But first, Glenn Beck, the firebrand political commentator on the Fox News Channel, is hosting a rally tomorrow in Washington, D.C. The rally also promises Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin. It's expected to draw activists from around the country.

The event will take place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the spot where Martin Luther King delivered his speech "I Have a Dream." And it will take place on the anniversary of that famous moment.

This has gotten some civil rights leaders upset, as NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA: For months now, Glenn Beck has been issuing the call to his audience to come to Washington for a rally he has titled "Restoring Honor."

Mr. GLENN BECK (Fox News): Join me at the Lincoln Memorial with your children to set things right in your own life, to grow the next George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, to put your feet on the right path and to restore honor...

GONYEA: Beck, who says his rally isnt about politics, is an outspoken critic of President Obama. On his TV show he regularly calls the president a socialist and a Marxist. Hes also described the president as racist, and likened the federal debt to slavery.

Describing his plans for his rally, Beck says it will embody and reclaim the ideals put forth by Martin Luther King.

His critics are blunt.

Mr. MARC MORIAL (National Urban League): Glenn Beck doesnt have any standing to interpret the vision of Dr. King.

GONYEA: That's Marc Morial of the National Urban League, one of several civil rights groups sponsoring their own march and rally not far from Beck's tomorrow.

Mr. MORIAL: Sometimes you get the impression from listening to Beck that he's promoting fear and division. Thats what I sense and I see when I hear him speak and when I hear him disparage the government, when I hear him disparage the president, when hear him disparage various people.

GONYEA: Here's how Beck responds. This is from his radio show.

(Soundbite of radio broadcast)

Mr. BECK: Whites dont own Abraham Lincoln. Blacks dont own Martin Luther King. Humans, humans embrace their ideas or reject their ideas.

Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (Civil Rights Leader): Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee...

GONYEA: Every day, twice a day at the Lincoln Memorial, a park ranger plays a recording of King's "I Have a Dream" speech. It's a measure of how iconic the moment has become. Just down the steps from where King spoke is the stage for Beck's event.

Ray Baxter traveled here from Idaho for the rally.

Mr. RAY BAXTER: Its Glenn Beck, he's right on. You know, I think there ought be more people that ought to be watching him and following him and doing the studying he asks them to do, you know.

GONYEA: But nearby, Vince Shiluli(ph) of Long Beach, California has a different view of the rally.

Mr. VINCE SHILULI: I just believe it's inappropriate for them to have it on that day. It's kind of mocking the Martin Luther King speech. I just dont like it. I dont think it's a good idea. They could have easily picked a different date.

GONYEA: Beck says the date chosen was coincidence, not by design. It remains to be seen how many show up for the rally. Many will be members of the Tea Party movement.

Mary McKinney((ph) was at the Lincoln Memorial in advance of the rally. She applauds Beck for his role in boosting the Tea Party.

Ms. MARY MCKINNEY: You know, he's making this call for people to come. You come to these Tea Party events and it's exciting. It's wonderful to be with all these precious people. They're just great, you know, cream of the crop of the world's population.

GONYEA: In one respect, at least, this event may be different. Rally organizers have asked participants not to bring their often angry homemade signs.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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