Rallies compete in nation's capital

Estimates of the size of the crowd at the Glenn Beck 'Restoring Honor' rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial ranged from the tens of thousands to the hundreds of thousands. No official crowd estimate was provided.

WASHINGTON -- Standing on the hallowed ground of the nation's civil rights icons, the leading conservative luminaries of the tea party movement on Saturday called on tens -- possibly hundreds -- of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall to turn to the values of the founding fathers to restore what they say is a deficit of honor in America.

Four miles away, a smaller but no less-spirited crowd filled a high school football stadium and the sidewalks around it, then marched through Washington's streets, angrily protesting that the first rally had usurped the memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the 47th anniversary of King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

The two sides came together briefly as the marchers -- nearly all of them black -- passed near the Lincoln Memorial, where tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people -- almost all of them white -- had streamed to hear Fox News personality Glenn Beck and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally.

One marcher hoisted a white sign with black letters reading: "Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are racists," and there was verbal sparring. But there were no physical confrontations and no arrests as police on horseback and motorcycles, along with U.S. Park Protective Service agents in navy blue SUV's, kept the two groups apart.

Conscious of the stigma of some of the anti-Obama imagery of tea party rallies during the health care debate this spring, Beck urged attendees not to bring signs. There was still plenty of self expression, however.

The Stars and Stripes and the tea party standard, the yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flag, all waved above the crowd. Plenty of people wore T-shirts or stickers with pithy sayings such as "I can see November from my house, too."

Wearing "Proud to Be American!" shirts, the Beck boosters hoisted American flags and chanted: "USA, USA!" as the marchers passed the Robert F. Kennedy Justice Department building. The marchers waved photos of King at them and chanted: "MLK, MLK!"

"The First Amendment is a wonderful thing," John Green, a Beck rally attendee who works for a furniture leasing firm in Akron, Ohio, said as the King marchers passed him.

No crowd estimates for either demonstration were available, though it was clear the Beck rally was much larger. People lined both sides of the reflecting pool facing the Lincoln Memorial for the Beck rally.

Beck's "Restoring Honor" event had the air of a sprawling church picnic on a steamy late-summer day -- part somber sermon and part rally.

"Something beyond imagination is happening," Beck said. "America today begins to turn back to God."

He exhorted the crowd to "recognize your place to the creator. Realize that he is our king. He is the one who guides and directs our life and protects us." He asked his audience to pray more. "I ask, not only if you would pray on your knees, but pray on your knees but with your door open for your children to see," he said.

Beck repeatedly alluded to King and Abraham Lincoln and at one point read excerpts from the Gettysburg Address.

"For too long, this country has wandered in darkness, and we have wandered in darkness in periods from the beginning," Beck said. "We have had moments of brilliance and moments of darkness. But this country has spent far too long worried about scars and thinking about the scars and concentrating on the scars."

"Today," Beck said, "we are going to concentrate on the good things in America, the things we have accomplished and the things we can do tomorrow."

While Beck billed his event as nonpolitical, conservative activists said their show of strength was a clear sign that they can swing elections because much of the country is angry with what many voters call an out-of-touch Washington.

Lisa Horn, 28, an accountant from Houston, said she identifies with the tea party movement, although she said the rally was not about either the tea party or politics. "I think this says that the people are uniting. We know we are not the only ones," she said. "We feel like we can make a difference."

At Dunbar High School in northeast Washington, the Rev. Al Sharpton sounded a different theme as the throng there prepared to march across the capital's center city to the site of a planned memorial for King not far from the Lincoln Memorial.

"They want to disgrace this day!" Sharpton said. "We ain't giving them this day! This is our day!"

Sharpton said it didn't matter that Beck and Palin spoke from the very spot where King addressed the March on Washington in 1963.

"We can dream anywhere we are!" Sharpton said. "We can dream from hospital beds! We can dream from jail cells! We don't need to stand on the spot!"

Among Beck's featured speakers was King's niece, Alveda King, who appealed to the rally participants to "focus not on elections or on political causes but on honor, on character ... not the color of our skin."

Clarence B. Jones, who served as the civil rights leader's personal attorney and his speechwriter, said he thinks King would not be offended by Beck's rally but "pleased and honored" that a diverse group of people would come together, almost five decades later, to discuss the future of America.

Jones, now a visiting professor at Stanford University, said the Beck rally seemed to be tasteful and did not appear to distort King's message, which included a recommitment to religious values.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.