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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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August 28th, 2013
06:47 PM ET

Analysis: Race in America in 2013

President Barack Obama's speech to thousands on the National Mall Wednesday – the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington – both paid tribute to those who gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 and cast a hopeful eye towards the future.

"They dared to dream differently, to imagine something better, and I am convinced that same imagination, same hunger of purpose, stirs in this generation," said Obama.

"Change does not come from Washington, but to Washington. The change has always been built on our willingness, we the people to take on the mantle of citizenship. You are marching," said Obama.

Some thought the president would give a more personal speech.

"I don't think it was about him. I don't think the day was about him. I think he had the grace to recognize that," said Michel Martin, host of NPR's "Tell Me More."

"I think that people feel that, perhaps the president was being too cool for school, but I think that he was reflecting his philosophical and firmly-held belief that movements are about the people and not about individuals like him," said Martin.

Columnist with The Washington Post Clinton Yates wrote about how his father, then 19, was in D.C. in 1963 and missed the march, for valid reasons – because he had to go to work. Still, he regrets it to this day.

Now, there is a new generation of young African-American men, who likely wanted to hear something from Obama Wednesday.

"You probably wanted to hear something that made you think, 'Hey this is for me, this country is for me.' I think that was a big part of what (Obama) was trying to explain when he brought up the fact that the goal of the civil rights movement wasn't just to make more blacks millionaires, but to give people opportunities," said Yates.

Obama did talk about economic inequality, and that there is still a long way to go.

"There are some people that just want to know they have a shot in this society. And that was something that I don't know he addressed as well as he could have, but he did attempt to go there," said Yates.

Columnist for USA Today Dewayne Wickham wrote a piece that was critical about some of the commemorations, saying they miss the mark, and do not talk about the important issues.

"They spend too much time talking about things in the past. They talked about Trayvon Martin, who was a tragic case, but we kill in this country 8,000 black Americans, most of it black-on-black crime. That's a catastrophe that has to be addressed," said Wickham.

Obama has paid a heavy political price when he has chosen to speak personally about race, said Martin, and has spoken about young African American men repeatedly in recent weeks and months.

"His comments about Trayvon Martin, where he has spoken very personally about that, he's paid a price with that with a certain group of people, particularly a certain group of white conservative pundits who have apparently not appreciated his remarks," said Martin.

"I think a lot of the people he was speaking to – young African-American men and the people who love them – have very much felt that he has spoken to their pain and their concerns very directly," said Martin.

For more analysis, check out the video above.

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