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Rally aims to 'Reclaim the Dream'

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Sharpton: 'Dream has not been achieved'
  • NEW: Sharpton calls Beck's comments a "motivational speech"
  • Civil rights figures march to the site of a planned King memorial
  • The Rev. Al Sharpton tells "Reclaim the Dream" rally "this is our day"
  • Rally took place as conservatives gathered in an event at the site of the King speech

Washington (CNN) -- Civil rights leaders marking the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech Saturday scorned a nearby Glenn Beck-led rally, saying it came with no message and with a presumption that King's famous discourse can be used as a conservative platform.

The Rev. Al Sharpton and a range of activists spoke at the event, which they called "Reclaim the Dream," insisting that King's vision for America has not been completely fulfilled.

"Don't let anyone tell you that they have the right to take their country back. It's our country, too," said Avis Jones Deweaver, executive director of the National Council of Negro Women, making a reference to the Tea Party members attending the Beck rally at the Lincoln Memorial.

"We will reclaim the dream. It was ours from the beginning. A dream that we will make reality," she said at the Dunbar High School rally in northwest Washington, D.C.

Video: Sharpton, King weigh in on Beck

People at Dunbar stood shoulder to shoulder, filling half of a high school football field and the track around one half of the field. They also filled about five sections of the bleachers.

Many of the speakers made numerous references to what America was like in 1963, when King gave his speech.

"Schools all over America still were segregated and public accommodations housing was segregated and blacks in the South didn't have the right to vote. The march on Washington changed all of that. Glenn Beck's march will change nothing. But you can't blame Glenn Beck for his 'March on Washington' envy. Too bad he doesn't have a message to match the place or that is worthy of the march," said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-District of Columbia.

Following the rally, Sharpton linked arms with fellow marchers and walked three miles to the site of the future Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial, just a few blocks from the Lincoln Memorial.

Sharpton and others couldn't resist discussing Beck's controversial rally on the National Mall. Beck, who has a program on Fox News as well as several radio programs, was criticized for holding his event -- which he called "Restoring Honor" -- where King delivered his speech August 28, 1963.

Civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson told CNN that Beck was mimicking King and "humiliating the tradition."

Beck said the site of his rally was appropriate to reflect on the legacy of King, "the man who stood down on those stairs and gave his life for everyone's right to have a dream."

"They may have the Mall," countered Sharpton, "but we have the message. They may have the platform but we have the dream."

"This is our day and we ain't giving it away," said Sharpton, who reminded the crowd that much civil rights progress has been seen in the last several decades but more needs to be made.

Sharpton told CNN's Don Lemon on Saturday night that Beck's rally wasn't appropriate for a day when people reflect on King's policy message.

"Whose civil rights agenda did he lay out? It was a motivational speech," Sharpton said of Beck. "It might be good, but it's not civil rights."

Earlier Saturday, Sharpton noted that in 1963, African-Americans had to sit in the back of buses and couldn't check into segregated hotels. Now, he said, people flew in to the event first class and can use public accommodations. And most significantly, he noted, the president of the United States is an African-American.

Sharpton also said that more progress needs to be made in education, criminal justice and other issues, such as statehood for the District of Columbia, which has a large black population.

"We're not there yet," he said.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who also spoke at the event, called education "the civil rights issue of our generation." He said it's time to stop being complacent about education and demand excellence.

Sharpton said the conservatives who rallied at the Lincoln Memorial should ask President Abraham Lincoln himself why he led the fight against states' rights during the Civil War to hold the union together. He urged the people there to read King's speech and talk to people who endured discrimination in their lives.

Sharpton warned conservative forces they'd face a fight in the upcoming elections, and called on people to turn out to vote this year as they did in 2008, when Obama was elected.

"We're coming out to fight and we're not going to let you turn back the clock," he said.

Other well-known public figures spoke, including National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial, who said, "We will not stand silent as some seek to hijack, as some seek to distort and contort, as some seek to bamboozle and confuse the vision of Dr. King's dream."

Morehouse College President Robert Franklin indicated that King was treated respectfully by the conservatives.

"I am delighted to know that Mr. Glenn Beck and his colleagues discovered the 'I Have a Dream' speech," he said. But, he added, Beck needs to travel to Morehouse, the Atlanta college King attended, to learn what King studied -- citing, for example, the works of religious thinkers who influenced the late civil rights leader.

A couple of speakers also noted the passing of Dorothy Height earlier this year. Height, a civil rights pioneer, had been chair and president emeritus of the National Council of Negro Women and was on the podium with King during the 1963 speech.

The "I Have a Dream" speech -- delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial -- served as a symbol of the fight against racial discrimination. It was made during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and is considered one of the most pivotal and memorable of American speeches.

CNN's Sarah Lee contributed to this report.