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From MLK to Today

Aired January 19, 2009 - 15:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: A day to remember the past, look to the future.
On the 80th anniversary of Martin Luther King's birthday, on the day before Barack Obama's inauguration, we take a look back, remember the past with Dr. King's friend and associate Andrew Young, and we will also look to the future with the president of the National Urban League, and with an Internet innovator who is using technology to change the way democracy works.

Afternoon. Welcome back, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien right on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Want to have a special welcome to our international viewers, as we begin this hour of our special report, "From MLK to Today."

As we begin our coverage this afternoon, I want to first thank Roland Martin for joining us today.


O'BRIEN: Appreciate the warmth, the body heat that you provided.


O'BRIEN: We have been talking, of course, about the day of service all day, Roland. You see Barack Obama and Michelle Obama coming out and really underscoring that on this day that we celebrate Martin Luther King, really celebrate his message, too, which is a message of helping others and giving service to others.

MARTIN: This has been a candidate, a president-elect who has been saying that it's not about we; it's not about me. And so he has been driving that point home. And so this day of service simply amplifies that. And I think you are going to hear this over the next four years, where he's constantly pushing Americans to go beyond themselves and to get to work.

O'BRIEN: Your day of service with me here on the Mall is over.

MARTIN: Right, on the Mall.

O'BRIEN: You have got more service, but not here with us.

MARTIN: More service, head to Howard University to moderate a panel for Spike Lee. And we have got tons of folks on the panel, a bunch of -- Donna Brazile and Amy Holmes, Michael Steele.

And, then, of course, I will be -- we will be back together...

O'BRIEN: Wonderful.


MARTIN: ... 7:00 to 8:00 for the prime-time special. So, looking forward to it.

O'BRIEN: We will see you then. Thank you for helping today...


MARTIN: OK. I'm going to get warm, Soledad. You take care.



O'BRIEN: You go in and get warm.

We have dragged Anderson Cooper out, though, to help us out.

And, of course, the atmosphere here -- and you spent a lot of time on the Mall yesterday and today.


O'BRIEN: Do you notice a difference between the two days?

COOPER: More people, certainly.

And you can actually feel the excitement building. People -- yesterday, there was a reality to it because there was this concert out on the Mall, but I think people realize this is just less than 24 hours away, and this is what they have come for.

And it's just amazing here out on the Mall. You look around, you talk to people, they are from all over the globe. There's one from Trinidad and Tobago standing right over there who I was just talking to, people who just wanted to come, just wanted to be here. They may not even get a glimpse of Barack Obama, but that doesn't even matter to them so much, as long as they're here.

And there is this sense of community, which is kind of remarkable, people, literally complete strangers, having conversations with one another and kind of finishing each other's sentences. It's -- I have really never seen anything like it.

O'BRIEN: One thing that's been nice, I think, is to sort of remember the history. It's an opportunity to go back over the history lesson because of the timing of Martin Luther King's birthday celebration, and then, of course, the inauguration tomorrow. You get to revisit all these civil rights icons, whose stories have kind of been lost.

COOPER: Yes. Well, it's incredible when you think about -- and you said this earlier -- it was young people who were in the front lines, in the trenches of the civil rights movement, in many cases, and people whose names we will never know, whose faces we do not remember.

And yet they were the ones sitting at the lunch counters. They were the ones refusing to sit in the back of the buses. And they changed history. And it's a shame. So many young people today do not remember the full details of it. And I think that's why it's important today that we have been doing these broadcasts all day long and playing the entire speech.


COOPER: I had never seen the entire thing before. And it was incredible.

O'BRIEN: I hadn't either.


O'BRIEN: And you really, fully understand the scope of what he...


COOPER: And once you see the 10 minutes before or the 15 minutes before the "I have a dream" part, it makes the "I have a dream" part all the more powerful and moving.

O'BRIEN: Yes. In some ways, it's sad that it's sort of been distilled to those few lines.


O'BRIEN: We have got to get Christiane Amanpour, who is on Capitol Hill.

Of course, we have been talking about the enthusiasm, Anderson. But the reality for the new president coming in is very, very difficult, certainly an economic crisis, certainly overseas, many issues as well. Let's talk overseas first, Christiane.

Great excitement, I know, having just been over in Europe a couple weeks ago. What do you think the real implication is?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you can imagine, from this point in Capitol Hill and from where the president will stand and look out all the way down the Mall towards the Lincoln Memorial, 200 years of black American history will come into focus, and remembering, of course, Martin Luther King's speech.

And this also is resonating right across Europe. Of course, during the election campaign, Obama was Europe's favorite candidate to win. But beyond that, it really resonated with the very large black and other minorities that make up the populations of France, of Germany, of Italy, of Britain.

In Germany, for instance, where he visited in July, 250,000 people came out to see his inspiring speech. And, yet, of the three million or so people of Turkish origin in Germany, there is barely a one in public service. Just one in fact this year was elected head of the Green Party, the only significant member of a minority in German politics.

In France, where in 2005 there were those race riots in France and Paris' outer city ghettos in the (SPEAKING FRENCH) the (SPEAKING FRENCH) and as Interior Minister back then Nicolas Sarkozy called them scum.

But standing with Obama when Obama visited Paris again in July, he of course as president has nominated and named three people of migrant status to his Cabinet. And since Obama's election, Sarkozy himself has talked about increasing minorities in civil service, in politics in the media, of which there are literally almost none right now.

So, these are big deals in Europe, where they are hoping for their own Obama. France, for instance, has something like 10 percent to 15 percent of black people of French origin who are not at all represented in politics. So, this is a very big deal for the people around the world who are looking for their own empowerment, and most particularly in parts of Europe, where they believe they had enlightenment way before the United States did. So, it's important to the people there -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: You know, and it's interesting you say empowerment, because, of course, as much as there has been controversy around asking Rick Warren to be part of the inauguration ceremony, many people have also pointed to his work at HIV and AIDS in Africa as highlighting some issues that really don't get a lot of coverage on that continent.

AMANPOUR: Yes, well, you know, a lot of the controversy over Reverend Rick Warren here has been over his stance on gay rights issues.

But, in Africa, in the AIDS fight, there is another controversy. And that, of course, is involved in President Bush's PEPFAR, the aid to Africa program. But in Uganda, for instance, where they had a big emphasis on condoms and safe sex over the '90s, there was a significant decrease in the incidence of HIV/AIDS. And since Rick Warren and others have gone over and bonded with sort of the evangelical Christians in Uganda, they sort of tried to dismiss the condom part of their program there and focus just on abstinence.

And this is causing a spike in the rise of AIDS in Uganda, which is very troubling. And, so, there's quite a lot of controversy over that in terms of the fight against HIV and AIDS.

O'BRIEN: Christiane Amanpour for us today right on Capitol Hill -- thanks, Christiane. Appreciate it.

I'm interested, Anderson. what was your service project today? Because just came out here, what, about 10 minutes ago.



COOPER: My service has been talking to people out on the Mall all day.

Unfortunately, that's all I have had time to do. But it's been a really cool experience. And we're going to be on the Mall tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern for a full review of the day that we have seen, and also the day tomorrow.

There's going to be -- I think a lot of people don't know exactly how everything is going to play out tomorrow. So, we really want to give people a sense tonight of how the day tomorrow is going to go.

O'BRIEN: So, logistics could be very complicated, because usually -- when I was here four years ago for the second Bush inauguration, easy to make it from the swearing-in over to the parade, no problem at all. The city was -- I think had a tenth of what they are expecting this year.

COOPER: Right. Yes, this time, you are not going to be able to do that. If you're coming to D.C. at all tomorrow, you have to decide either you are going to go to the Mall and watch the swearing-in or you're going to go to the parade route. There's room for about 300,000, 350,000 people along the parade route, but you have got to get there early.

But you're not going to be able to run from one to the other. So, you have really got to sort of commit to it and figure out a way how you're going to get into the city, because it's going to be tight.

O'BRIEN: What's your stance? I would love to see just personally -- I think it will be a logistical nightmare -- but personally to have this Mall filled with a 1.7 million or two million people. I think it would be just cool visually, an amazing testament to people's interest in an inauguration, which often really aren't that...


COOPER: Well, to have the crowd stretch from the west front of the Capitol all the way down to the Lincoln Memorial would be truly extraordinary, just visually to see that. And there are more than 20 Jumbotron screens, so people are going to be able to actually watching the swearing-in wherever they are, whether they're on the parade route or whether they're here on the Mall.

O'BRIEN: And hopefully it won't be too cold and the weather will hold up for everybody.

While Anderson was doing his community service working, no idle hands, that what was the soon-to-be-President Barack Obama was saying as he did his community service, pitching in. He was actually -- literally, they put him to work painting a wall. And he kind of rolled up his sleeves, had jeans on. He did a pretty good job. Roland was joking that Michelle is watching saying, he can do that.


O'BRIEN: Then we had Michelle Obama, who was putting together, really, care packages for the troops. That was taking place at RFK Stadium. And a moment ago, you saw Joe Biden, the soon-to-be vice president, who also was at several service projects as well.

So, they have really been underscoring -- using the cameras that are trailing them today as an opportunity to use the platform to underscore the need for service. And it's been consistent with his message, the president-elect's message, that, it's not me; it's we.

COOPER: Well, it's also not just -- these are obviously photo opportunities, but real change happens through service.

You have spent a lot of time in New Orleans. We have seen the changes that the tens of thousands of young people and church groups who have been down there over the last three years have made a huge difference. If it was not for the volunteers, New Orleans would not be at the place it is today.

O'BRIEN: Let's listen to Barack Obama talking about the need for service. We got a little clip.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Everybody's got to be involved. Everybody's going to have to -- everybody's going to have to pitch in.

And I think the American people are ready to do that. We have got 5,000 volunteer organizations and service projects across the country today. The Internet is an amazing tool for us to be able to organize people together. We saw that in our campaign. But we don't want to just use it for winning elections. We want to use it to rebuild America.


O'BRIEN: We will talk more about service projects that are taking place around the country today when we come back after this short break. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Barack Obama wants you to spend more time in the service of others. We heard him say that today. Tomorrow, he is the president of the United States, but, today, president-elect Obama was urging Americans to give of themselves with one goal, to help the country in hardship.

CNN's Brooke Baldwin is with us now on this day of service, reporting on what you have seen. Good to see you, Brooke.


O'BRIEN: What are you seeing?

BALDWIN: Good to see you bundled up. I know it's chilly there on the Mall.

I like how you said that earlier. It's not just me; it's we. And it's amazing when you think about just how the Internet has changed the face of volunteerism. I will get to that in a moment, but, first, let's talk numbers here. A record 12,100 different service projects are under way nationwide today. That is according to That's the Web site where all these different groups have to register, and that number, by the way, more than double the record set last year.

So, the question is, why the sudden surge in volunteerism? Two big reasons I have for you, according to some of the volunteers I talked to today, one, of course, to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, but, two, to heed the call to service from president-elect Barack Obama.

It's a message that's really become one of the centerpieces of his campaign. And, today, as you can see, hundreds of thousands of Americans collecting food, they're refurbishing schools, and they're assembling care packages for military men and women.

But there is something sort of new, a new push this year, if you will, according to one volunteer, that's helping the community service cause. That is the Internet.

Les Williams posted his plans to volunteer at the Atlanta Food Bank on his Facebook page.


LES WILLIAMS, VOLUNTEER: It's funny. When I posted that note on my Facebook page, other people said, hey, Les, what are you doing this time. It is (INAUDIBLE) No, it's actually the community food bank. So, it's very viral. And I think that's going to be tremendous to the success of volunteerism down the road.


BALDWIN: And speaking of down the road, Williams also pointed out Barack Obama's success, let's remember, just a couple months ago in getting the youth vote, thanks to his e-mail campaign. And he believes, thanks to the Internet and Obama's investment in technology, Soledad, that more and more people will make it a day on or hopefully days on, and not days off.

O'BRIEN: Yes. You certainly hope that folks listen to that. Thanks. Appreciate that.


O'BRIEN: In his "I Have a Dream" speech, Martin Luther King talked about the path to racial equality. And when Barack Obama takes office tomorrow, it will mark a major milestone on that path.

National Urban League president Marc Morial here to talk about some of the issues that plague the African-American and really the urban community. Nice to see you always.

MARC MORIAL, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: Thanks, Soledad. Good to be with you, always. Great. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much.

The reality is, come Wednesday, after the big day, after the moment, as we call it, the reality does not change for many people, not only in urban centers, but across the nation. The day-to-day reality for all people, any color, does not really change.

MORIAL: You and CNN have reported on it extensively. The National Urban League has reported on it extensively. The underlying conditions do not change with the inauguration of Barack Obama.

But what I do think changes is the direction of the country, the focus of the country, the idea that now the president, I believe, will be committed to this idea of closing those gaps, the idea of trying to lift up all Americans. So, there's dramatic change in direction, which I think will be represented by his election. But it's just the starting gate. It's only the beginning.

O'BRIEN: Do you worry that that focus could be drawn, could be pulled away by, oh, yes, that giant economic crisis that is disproportionately affecting people who are already impoverished, already struggling, already on the margins, and that focus of this new president could be pulled away by what's happening in Gaza, what's happening in Iraq, what's happening in Afghanistan?

He's got -- he's coming in with major issues to deal with before he even looks at inner-city issues.

MORIAL: But, most importantly, the economic issues, the subprime meltdown, the joblessness we face, are indispensably linked to the urban community.

And to lift the urban community is to lift all of America, is to create economic growth for all of America. I think that we have to get away from the division, the wedge politics and the alienation of the past to a new era which sees the urban community as indispensable to economic growth and success.

So, I think the conversation will be different. And I hope that people in this country are going to challenge themselves to recognize that in a deep, deep crisis we face today, we have got to lift those at the bottom, those in the middle, and those at the top if the nation is going to go forward. O'BRIEN: Give me your list. If you could sit down with the president-elect or the president and say here's what you need to be focused on, I know you have got these other big issues, what would you list for him?

MORIAL: Jobs, economic growth -- jobs, housing and children -- jobs, housing and children.

And I use children instead of education, because I think it's the totality of raising children, their health care, education, recreation, their environment.

And I would also say that the president will have a great opportunity not only to lead the government, but to lead the nation -- so, jobs, housing, and children.

O'BRIEN: You kind of get the sense of that today, at least I did, in these service projects, kind of using the fact that he's been tailed by a bunch of cameras today to have a platform for service and change and bring in the young people who are volunteering and also highlighting some of the issues that need help all at the same time.

MORIAL: He's leading by example. He's demonstrating that I'm not only going to ask you to do something; I will do it myself.

And that's powerful. And I think, on Dr. King's birthday, I think it's a healthy way to think about how to define new ways to celebrate the birthday going forward. And I think doing service -- I just saw Martin Luther King III. We were at the giant People's Inaugural Project, which, as you know, is a giant service project...

O'BRIEN: Yes, it is.

MORIAL: ... with Earl Stafford and volunteers trying to lift people, give them a chance to participate in this inauguration.

O'BRIEN: Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban, always nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us.


O'BRIEN: Our live coverage continues.

When we come back, we're going to have more of my conversation with a trusted King lieutenant, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young.


O'BRIEN: If the holiday had a soundtrack, it might be those four memorable words, "I have a dream," Martin Luther King at the height of his inspiration. No less moving were the words that King spoke on the 3rd of April in 1968 on the eve of his assassination. Take a listen.



MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: So, I'm happy tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.



O'BRIEN: He delivers a speech, "I have been to the mountaintop." Do you remember the preparation for that and that night?


"I have been to the mountaintop" speech is something that he'd made before. But he always made that at a time when things were dangerous.

O'BRIEN: Is there anything now that strikes you about that speech in hindsight?

YOUNG: Nothing, except that he basically spelled out, he almost planned his funeral. Because he had done it before and we'd gone on to the next place, I wasn't really taking it serious. It was just a great speech. But I never thought I was listening to his last speech.

KING: We've got some difficult days ahead.

YOUNG: But the next day, he was more silly and goofy and playful than I would ever seen him. And he grabbed a pillow off the bed and threw the pillow at me and he and Ralph, they just kept throwing pillows and I was throwing pillows back. And, I mean, they were just -- they were playing like 10 year-olds. And they finally pushed me down between the two beds and put all the pillows up on me and sat on me and this was my punishment for not calling in all day.

He came out after this pillow fight thing and he didn't have a coat.

O'BRIEN: Where were you in the Lorraine Motel?

YOUNG: We were waiting for him to go to the -- to go to dinner. So I was telling him he needed to go back to get his coat. And then a shot rang out, which I thought was a firecracker. And when I looked up there and didn't see him, I thought he was clowning again, until I ran upstairs and saw, you know, him laying in a pool of blood.

O'BRIEN: At that moment, what did you think?

YOUNG: Well, I thought two things. I thought that there was nobody who was more deserving to go on to claim their reward. And then I was mad because I was left with all this mess. I really didn't know how we would survive.

Actually, his spirit has never left us. O'BRIEN: Is it something you think about? Or is it something you don't think about at all?

YOUNG: It's something I think about all of the time.

O'BRIEN: Really. In what way?

YOUNG: Well, everything I do I have to put in the context of what we were committed to.


O'BRIEN: Andrew Young choking up as we talked about that final day of life of Martin Luther King Jr.

Is Dr. King's dream still alive? That's been a question we have been asking over and over again. Is it still a dream at all? But many Americans, especially African-Americans, believe it or not, in the polling, say the dream is now fulfilled.

We will get to the reality of that straight ahead. In just a minute, I will talk to this man, who carries the name King right into the era of Barack Obama.

Martin Luther King III is with us right after the short break.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

I want to share some numbers with you from a CNN/Opinion Research poll -- 69 percent of African-Americans say they believe Dr. Martin Luther King's dream is now fulfilled, 69 percent. That's twice the number of people who say they felt the same way just a year ago.

Love to know if Dr. King's son feels the very same way. Martin Luther King III joins us. Nice to see you.


O'BRIEN: You started the day early. We saw you in the videotape along with the president-elect visiting some of those wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

KING III: Walter Reed, yes.

O'BRIEN: Why don't you first tell me what was that visit like? It seemed very low-key.

KING III: Well, actually, it was extraordinary.

But my part of the visit was when we got to a facility for young people, and we actually were painting the facility.

(CROSSTALK) O'BRIEN: Yes, we noticed the president-elect was painting. I didn't see you doing a lot of painting. Were you?

KING III: Well, I was.


O'BRIEN: OK, good.


KING III: I was talking and painting also. But it was an incredible experience, most of all to spend time with those young people. And...

O'BRIEN: What was their reaction to the president-elect?

KING III: Oh, like all of our reactions. It's like, wow, man, this is the president, you know. Hey, Mr. President.

You know, it was just exciting to see them, these young men who probably have had trouble in their lives, and these young women as well. But there's a transformation that is taking place in our country. And the president-elect certainly is at the head of that transformation.

O'BRIEN: When you talk about a transformation, describe what you mean. Your father, of course, Martin Luther King Jr., was called transformative also, and was transformative.

What do you think the transformation is here today?

KING III: Well, number one, we perhaps will make a 180-degree turn from where we were.

There was a lot of bitterness, a lot of divisiveness, a lot of polarization. But that's not really who Americans are. Americans really want to be a part of something positive, want to help.

I think president-elect Obama gives us that opportunity to do something. That's what the King holiday is about, not just service on this one day, but throughout the year. Earlier, you mentioned do I feel that my father's dream is fulfilled. I feel a monumental step has been made. But there's no way that I can say his dream has been fulfilled -- maybe a part of his dream -- as long as there are 37 million people living in poverty, 47 million people with no health insurance.

O'BRIEN: I think that's an interesting point, because I think for many people who only know the "I have a dream of brotherhood" part of the speech...

KING III: Yes, yes.

O'BRIEN: ...then sure, that sounds like the dream is fulfilled.


O'BRIEN: But if you actually listen to the whole speech, it was about economic justice...

KING III: That's right. That's right.

O'BRIEN: ...and financial parity for all Americans.

KING III: That's right, all Americans. And, again, unfortunately, with this economic climate -- and the president-elect has already told us things are going to get worse, unfortunately, before they get better.

But I think we celebrate today. We celebrate in an electrifying way tomorrow, like we've never celebrated before. This reminds me of when President Mandela was inaugurated. I happened to be blessed to have been in South Africa at that time. This is our South African moment in the United States.

But on January 21st, we've got to roll up our sleeves -- as the president-elect has challenged us -- and work with him. It's going to take every one of us to make a difference and to rebuild and revitalize this nation.

O'BRIEN III: He has used, certainly today -- the day of service and your father's birthday celebration -- as the platform to draw the nation's attention. I mean he was where you were today painting; also drawing attention to the plight of homeless teenagers.

KING III: Right.

O'BRIEN: You know, I know they house roughly 15 homeless teens.

KING III: That's right.

O'BRIEN: And I thought wow, it's so great that they do so many. And yet that's not that many in a city this size. I mean there's so much more to do.

KING III: But the example is you start with this one and inspire hundreds more -- maybe even thousands more. You know, what's very sad to me is we come to our nation's capital. And this is the seat of government. A $3 trillion budget comes out of here just from the federal government. And yet we have the audacity to have homeless people.

That's not acceptable. And I know the president-elect believes that and is going to work dramatically with Washington, D.C. . This should be the blueprint for our nation. When people come to our nation's capital, they should be able to say, well, we don't have homelessness here. But yet if we can do it in Washington, we can do it in Chicago. We can do it in New York. We can do it in Atlanta. We can do it in Detroit.

And, you know, as the president-elect says, yes, we can. O'BRIEN: He talked a lot about sacrifice -- even in his speeches when he was on the train, Barack Obama -- and a little bit at the concert yesterday -- you know, kind of a sacrifice because of the economic climate and also just sacrifice because it's a new day.

And I always think, when I hear that word, for your family. You know, you sacrificed a lot because you gave up your father. You lost him to violence. But also, sacrifice was sharing your dad with the world. You know, he -- he didn't get to be all yours.


O'BRIEN: And when he was killed, you know, you -- everybody mourned. Everybody mourned.

Was that -- was that difficult?

KING III: Well, it -- clearly, it was -- it was probably the most traumatic experience of my life. And that's the one thing -- at 10 years old -- the tender age of 10, your life is interrupted when a loved one is taken from you.

But my mom and dad taught us that all -- in life, we all, perhaps, will fall down or something will happen in our lives. But it's our responsibility to get back up and keep trying. And that's -- you know, that's what we hopefully are about.

O'BRIEN: Martin Luther King III.

Nice to see you.

KING III: And same here.

O'BRIEN: Thanks.

You've had a busy, busy day all day.

KING III: A busy day.

O'BRIEN: An exciting day.

KING III: We're having a busy week. An incredibly exciting day.

O'BRIEN: Thank you for taking the time out to talk to us.

KING III: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We surely appreciate it.

It's always nice to see you.

Oh and I -- I don't want to leave. I'd be completely remiss if I did not thank you for allowing us to re-air, in its entirety, your father's speech -- the "I Have A Dream" speech.

KING III: Thanks. Thanks. O'BRIEN: And what a great opportunity for us.

KING III: Oh, thank you.

O'BRIEN: We're really grateful.

KING III: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Ahead today, he was the tech savvy candidate, he'll be the tech savvy president, right?

Barack Obama embraced the new media -- blogs, Widget, Twitter.

Oh, my -- when we come back, CNN's Errol Barnett is joining us to talk about new media and new politics. That's straight ahead.



O'BRIEN: Much more to come from the National Mall, where I've been all day.

But first, we want to check in with Tony Harris.

He's got a look at some of the other stories that are making news today -- hey, Tony.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And, Soledad, good to see you.

Hello, everyone.

Let's get you caught up on headlines from the CNN NEWSROOM.

On his last full day in office, President Bush has commuted the prison sentences of two former Border Patrol agents. Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean were sentenced to 11 and 12 years respectively for shooting an admitted drug smuggler as he crossed the U.S./Mexico border. President Bush says the sentences were excessive. And now they'll be released March 20th, after serving about two years.

Israel says its troops will leave Gaza as soon as possible -- possibly by the time Barack Obama is inaugurated president tomorrow.

Hamas says it remains in firm control of the battered seaside enclave.

And an architect of the 9/11 attacks says he is proud of what he did. That claim by accused terrorist Ramzi Binalshibh at a hearing of the War Crimes Court at Guantanamo Bay. It may have been the court's final hearing, given the incoming Obama administration's opposition to the military prison.

I'm Tony Harris in Atlanta.

Now back to Soledad O'Brien in the nation's capital. O'BRIEN: All right, Tony.

Thanks very much.

Reverend King and President-Elect Obama both rallied for change through grassroots organizations, inspiring millions of young Americans to believe in their dreams and to become more engaged in the political process. It was Obama's use, in fact, of new media that perhaps sparked one of the most exciting and significant elections in all of American history.

Let's get back to CNN's Errol Barnett, live in Atlanta for us at the NEWSROOM -- hey, Errol.


I'm down here because, you know, some people have said, have speculated that if it wasn't for the Web, Barack Obama wouldn't have been elected president. And they cite his very effective use of social networking sites -- YouTube -- to not only grow e-mail and phone lists, but to also raise a record amount of money.

In fact, I have his campaign Web site pulled up behind me. And he had a feature called, where he allowed people to personalize their own page and to really feel a part of the campaign.

Now, here at CNN, we decided that an appropriate way to cover this tech savvy president-elect's inauguration was to partner with a social networking site, Facebook. We will be partnering -- will be partnering with Facebook on the Inauguration Day to follow history happen.

If you join the Facebook group, you can watch the status of your friends who are also part of the group. More than one million people have already signed on. So not only will you be able to watch the inauguration on CNN television, if you head to live, you'll also be able to see the inauguration with your friends on Facebook.

I just quickly want to show you some other features has launched to help out with the coverage of tomorrow. One example is an interactive map. Already, we have iReports being sent in from people at the National Mall -- video images. I'm at the iReport station right now. I'll be with live tomorrow and following all of these user generated content images and video as it comes to us -- as, really, we watch you watch history take place.

I have a guest now joining me from Washington, D.C. who knows a thing or two about how sites -- social networking sites are used and these sorts of things.

His name is Tom Serres. He's the founder and CEO of something called

Tom, this is a company that uses the Internet, you say, to empower the democratic process.

How do you think a President Obama -- this tech savvy president- elect -- might use these sites to govern?

TOM SERRES, CEO, PIRYX: Well, you know, I think one of the big things that technology did for Obama was is it gave him a real opportunity to listen and then also empower people to effectuate change and to become part of his campaign and be a part of the promise -- or excuse me, the campaign.

And, you know, I think he can leverage that technology by having the government back it and allow them to become part of government -- a part of the process and thereby having more capabilities to listen to the American people and then govern based on what they say.

BARNETT: It is a tool to listen. But, Tom, the issue with commenting online is that it's quite anonymous, isn't it?

Doesn't that create a problem to really get an honest gauge of the pulse of America -- what Americans are thinking?

SERRES: Sure. You know, there's definitely the ability to have the anonymous aspect of it. But there's also plenty of services that are not anonymous. And people are very glad to share their opinions and share their information and publicly announce who they are.

Statistically, you'll be able to filter a lot of -- a lot of those outlyers out, I believe.

BARNETT: And, as you say, Barack Obama has announced launching organizing for America -- a way for everyone in the United States to bring about the change that he promised while campaigning.

Tom Serres, the founder and CEO of

Thank you for your time.

Right now I'm going to throw it back to Soledad O'Brien from a very warm NEWSROOM to a very cool Washington Mall -- Soledad, back to you.

O'BRIEN: It's cool -- it's not cool, it's cold. It's just out and out cold.

But I appreciate -- I appreciate that.

In fact, At the Martin Luther King memorial service in Atlanta today, there was a noisy disruption. We're going to show it to you, straight ahead.

Also, we'll have some surprising information about that airliner that made that emergency splash landing last week.

More on that as we continue our coverage.

Stay with us.

We're back in just a moment.



O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody, from The Mall in Washington.

We want to get right back to the CNN Center in Atlanta, where Tony Harris has some new developments on that US Airways crash that happened on Friday in New York -- Tony.

HARRIS: The US Airways plane that ditched Thursday in the Hudson River -- some people tell us they were on the same flight -- the very same aircraft, if you can believe it -- just two days before the crash. They say they also heard loud bangs on one side of the plane and the flight attendants told them an emergency landing was a possibility.

CNN Special Investigations Unit correspondent, Abbi Boudreau, is here with the very latest on the story -- Abbie, what can you tell us?

ABBI BOUDREAU, INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far, we've talked to about three passengers who say they were on the same US Airways flight, 1549, from LaGuardia to Charlotte just two days before the Thursday ditching into the Hudson River.

Those passengers tell CNN there were problems on that flight, as well. They say about 20 minutes into their trip, they heard several very loud bangs coming from the right side of the plane. One passenger reported seeing flames from the engine.

They tell CNN a flight attendant announced that they would have to turn the flight around and go back to LaGuardia. But then about 10 minutes later, according to the three passengers, the pilot then announced that they had run some tests in the air. And the pilot said there had been a series of compressor stalls on the right engine. Then he said it was safe enough to turn -- to continue on to Charlotte. And that's what they did.

Now we talked to Steve Jeffrey. He was a passenger on Tuesday's flight. He remembers be being so scared that he texted his wife to say good-bye, fearing the worst.


STEVE JEFFREY, US AIRWAYS PASSENGER: Again, I fly all the time. So it's -- the loudness and the -- the tone of the sound of these four bangs -- again, it was not an explosion. It was just a very loud banging -- louder than anything I've heard. And, again, I fly all the time, for the last 20 years. That's my business. And I've never heard anything like it.

It was just too loud and too sudden and abrupt. You know, it probably was over two minutes those four bangs occurred. And it was just -- you just knew. It was just abnormal. It was -- it didn't fit in the realm of things. And it -- it just made your heart sink. You know, it really just made you -- made you wonder.


BOUDREAU: According to Expert Aviation Consulting, an Indianapolis firm staffed by commercial pilots, the plane that experienced these reported compressor stalls on Tuesday was the same aircraft that was forced into the Hudson River two days later. The firm tells CNN it confirmed that information through its contacts in the aviation industry.

A US Airways spokesperson tells me they're looking into this, though neither the airline nor the NTSB could confirm whether the plane involved in the crash had compressor stalls just two days prior.

Experts we've talked to say compressor stalls can result in momentary air loss to the engine. And in more serious compressor stalls, the engine can shut down.

The NTSB says as part of its investigation into the Hudson River crash, it will be looking at all maintenance activities, but at this point has no indications of any anomalies or any malfunctions in the aircraft.

Now, the NTSB says it is focusing on a bird strike as a likely reason both engines failed during Thursday's flight. As we talked about earlier, we did talk to Steve Jeffrey earlier -- later this afternoon.

HARRIS: That's right. That's right.

BOUDREAU: And he did say that US Airways did confirm to him that he was on the same plane that actually went down in the Hudson River.

HARRIS: Well, Abbi, if you would, keep us posted with the latest on this investigation.

BOUDREAU: Absolutely.

HARRIS: All right. That's it from Atlanta.

Let's send it back to Washington, D.C. and our Soledad O'Brien -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, Tony.

Thanks very much.

There was an angry protest today at the King Day service in Atlanta. We're going to tell you what it was all about, just ahead.

Stay with us for our special coverage from MLK to today, right here on CNN.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

Wolf Blitzer is coming up with coverage next. He is reporting from the roof of the Newseum. We are not too far away.

I'll bet if I wave to you, Wolf, you could see me.

Can you see me if you look out the window a little maybe?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I can't see you.

O'BRIEN: What have you got coming up on "THE SITUATION ROOM?"

BLITZER: Thanks, Soledad.

We've got a lot coming up over the next three hours.

We're going to continue our coverage of this historic moment here in the United States. We're watching everything that's going on. Barack Obama getting ready to participate in three rather impressive dinners later tonight. We'll have complete coverage of all of that.

You're looking at these live pictures.

Also, something rare, indeed. We got a tour inside Air Force One and we'll show you what's going on in that unique -- unique aircraft.

Lots more, everything we need to know on this important day, coming up right at the top of the hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- Soledad, you'll be here, as well.

O'BRIEN: All right, Wolf.

OK, great.

We'll see you a little bit later.

About 100 gay activists -- gay rights activists staged a protest. It happened today right outside of the Martin Luther King Day service in Atlanta.

The target was the keynote speaker -- the Reverend Rick Warren, who opposes same-sex marriage.

There was also a little bit of a protest inside the church.

While Warren offered no apology for his stand, he did talk about the importance of diversity.

Here's a little bit of what he said.


PASTOR RICK WARREN, SADDLEBACK CHURCH: You don't have to agree on everything. You don't have to agree to -- to be agreeable. You can disagree without being disagreeable. You can see -- walk hand in hand without seeing eye to eye.

You know what I love about America?

Its diversity.


O'BRIEN: Also, speaking was King Center president, Isaac Newton Farris. And he said that Barack Obama's election is a huge step forward to racial equality, but there's still work to be done.

We keep saying the word history and historical. And, of course, it does all apply today -- an American history chapter on Barack Obama as president.

Page one will be written tomorrow. That's the next chapter of civil rights in America -- certainly not the very first.

We're going to take you live to Memphis and a big moment, as well, for the National Civil Rights Museum.

Stay with us.

That's straight ahead.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

Time to take you live now to Memphis, Tennessee.

And that was, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr. 's last destination on his journey to equality.

That's where his legacy is preserved at the National Civil Rights Museum.

CNN's T.J. Holmes is there for us today. He's been there all day -- hey, T.J.

T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there again to you, Soledad.

We've gotten the numbers -- the latest numbers now. About 4,000 people have come through here so far today. There is a line outside that is at least 100 yards long. It's been that way for the past several hours. A lot of people are lining up to come in on this special day.

Now, the impatience of MLK Day is that a lot of people who have come through here have been through here before. But everyone says this one is different.

There was talk in the local paper here -- you know, it had kind of written that maybe so much focus -- not so much focus was on MLK Day this year because so many people were focusing on the inauguration tomorrow.

But I'm finding that it's quite the contrary. People actually are putting more emphasis on this day. This day is more important, more significant and a bigger deal than it has ever been, because, as you said, this is the place.

It's a museum in here now. But, still, this was the hotel -- this is the place, where we're standing right now, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed.

Now, many people thought that the dream -- many people at the time, at least, would have thought that the dream or part of it was dying that day with the man.

However, given what we're going to see tomorrow, many people think that that dream certainly didn't die here in Memphis, but it actually might be realized tomorrow at noon, when this country will officially get its first black president.

Take a look at what's happening here. Just take a look right behind me, actually. You get an idea of how big the crowds are. These folks have actually already come through and taken the tour.

But take a gander. You can just get a feel of what we're seeing today. You see kids. You see smiles. You see parents. You see teaching going on. We've been watching this all day.

I walked through the museum -- across the street, there's a new exhibit. Now, of course, this main exhibit, as well -- where people are actually going through, it's quiet and they are teaching their kids.

So, Soledad, yes, it's a big day tomorrow. Everybody's thinking about it. But there is no question that this day has more emphasis and may be bigger for a lot of people than it has ever been before.

O'BRIEN: And we'll throw in there, T.J. , a plug for that museum. That is a really special and really amazing museum. Everyone should have a chance to see what they have on display there.


O'BRIEN: T.J. thanks.

And straight ahead, we'll have some final thoughts on what, as T.J. Said, is a very special day, when we return.


O'BRIEN: Our coverage will continue in just a moment with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM".

We'll leave you now with these words from Dr. King and Barack Obama.


DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.



OBAMA: The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you, we, as a people, will get there.


BLITZER: Take a look at this. This is the National Mall, where folks are coming in not only from the surrounding areas, but from all over the United States; indeed, from all over the world. They're getting for history tomorrow right there -- the west front of the White House. That's where Barack Obama will be sworn in as the next president of the United States. And he'll formally move into this building, the White House, on this important day. That would be tomorrow.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.