Transcript: CNN Contributor Roland Martin Interviews Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton At Civil Rights Museum In Memphis, Tenn.


CNN’s Roland Martin talks to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton about top issues on Americans mind today are the economy and the war in Iraq.  Forty years ago Dr. King was focused on the war in Vietnam and the economy.  Martin asks Sen. Clinton “What must Americans do to advance the issues that he was focused on.” He also talks to Sen. Clinton about Michigan’s decision not to hold another primary.


We are here with Senator Clinton, also Ben Hooks, who was executive director for a long time of the NAACP, a number of others — the mayor

of Memphis, also former Transportation secretary, Rodney Slater, and, of course, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee, from my hometown of Houston.

Senator Clinton, a critical issue, and that is, the last year of his life, Dr. King was focused on the war in Vietnam, but also the economy. The number one issues Americans say today, the economy and war in Iraq.

What must Americans do to advance the issues that he was focused on, as opposed to only looking back in terms of retrospect, what he was doing 40 years ago?

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Roland, that’s what I was speaking about earlier today. The best way to honor and remember Dr. King’s legacy is to fulfill it.

And he was here in Memphis on behalf of sanitation workers who were denied their basic human rights to organize, to bargain, and to have a decent income and be respected as contributors to the community, and he was speaking out against Vietnam. Well, here we are, 40 years later, and we’re still struggling with poverty and questions of economic justice.

Today I announced that I would have a high-level person of cabinet status who would be devoted to doing everything we could to do through the government to alleviate, prevent and end poverty. It is way past time.

I went to the Poor People’s March on Washington in the summer of 1968, and we have made some progress. There’s no denying that. But here in this great city, as in every city across America, too many children go to bed hundred, too many working people don’t have health care, too many folks are denied their basic rights on the job.

So, we do have work to do. And ending the war in Iraq is part of that, because we need to bring that money home, and bring our sons and daughters home, and put it to work right here.

MARTIN: Let’s deal with education. Dr. King, a learned man, went to college at a very early age. I was watching a story last night, a young man in Memphis doing very well, but he’s saying, look, we can’t bring

our school books home.

And so, do you think most Americans truly understand in inner cities we have kids who cannot bring school books home, who are not getting an equal and affordable high education that we see in the suburbs?

CLINTON: I don’t know that people understand it, but I’m sure trying to make people see it so that they can’t avoid it and they have to understand it. You know, some schools don’t even have enough books. A lot of them have deplorable conditions that our children are being taught in.

I believe that the role of the federal government is not to impose an unfunded mandate like No Child Left Behind willy-nilly on everybody. I don’t think that’s what we need to be doing.

We need to be targeting our resources to help schools like here in Memphis. We need to be lifting up those schools that are dealing with very difficult challenges.

We need to have preschool education so that every child gets a chance to be successful in school. And we’ve got to make college affordable.

You know, when Dr. King went to college, when I went to college, it was affordable compared to what the average income was. And we have a lot of direct aid and really low interest loans. Much of that has been lost in this ideological frenzy to let the market work its will on people, whether or not they’re going to be left in the dust.

So I feel very strongly that when it comes to public education, it is an incredibly important commitment of the federal government. We have to do it right, and I intend to.

MARTIN: Last question and that is a conversation with America. You just finished talking with several different black radio talk show hosts. We’re having this conversation with black America.

There’s something I noticed, and that is many conservative talk show hosts talk about Dr. King, content of the character, but they’re not here. Isn’t that part of the issue as well, that the conversation on race typically is being discussed among black radio show hosts? Shouldn’t there be a greater conversation where all Americans are talking about it to advance the issue? Even Condoleezza Rice said it was a birth defect, the issue of race in America.

CLINTON: Well, I agree. And I think it doesn’t just have to be a conversation, it needs to be a commitment to solutions.

We’ve had conversations. They’ve been behind closed doors, they’ve been in churches, and they’ve been in the halls of Congress. But we haven’t done everything we need to do.

Now, we’ve made progress. Let’s not be unmindful of that. But we haven’t made the kind of progress that locks in that dream and legacy.

So we do have a lot to do. And I am proposing solutions that I think will lift all Americans. But they will disproportionately affect and help African-Americans who have been all too often left behind.

And so my view about the conversation is, yes, everyone needs to be involved in it, we need to be educated, we need to challenge one another. It has to be a provocative conversation if it’s going to lead

to any results.

But then we’ve got to come together, as we are here in Memphis, and say what do we do? How do we roll up our sleeves and get to work? And that’s what I’m calling our country to do. Let’s produce results.

You know, Dr. King didn’t just come and speak to the sanitation workers, he walked with them. He agitated. He said, give them their rights.

And that’s what we have to do. We have to translate this conversation into positive results for America.

MARTIN: Bill Schneider just talked to us. He said in Michigan they just decided no do-over. Your reaction to that decision in Michigan?

CLINTON: Well, we’re going to have to figure out how to make sure the Democratic Party doesn’t disenfranchise the voters of Michigan. Those votes have been cast. The secretary of state has counted them. They’re there, 600,000 people who went to the time and trouble because they cared to come out and vote.

So the Democratic Party is going to have to come to grips with whether or not we want to be like the Republicans and disenfranchise people, or whether we will stay true to the voting rights record of this party. You know, here, as we are commemorating Dr. King’s 40th death anniversary, let’s remember that the Voting Rights Act lifted all Americans. It gave everyone the right to participate.

Let’s not begin to pull back from that. We’ve got to work this out.

MARTIN: Senator Clinton, I certainly appreciate it. Thanks a lot.

CLINTON: Always good to talk to you.

MARTIN: Thank you very much.

CLINTON: Thank you very much.

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