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50 years later: Is race the reason behind partisan gridlock?

Fifty years after the March on Washington, is there still more that unites us than divides us?

Fifty years after the March on Washington, is there still more that unites us than divides us?

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd sat down with Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Pulitzer Prize-winning civil rights historian and author Taylor Branch to look at how far the country has--or has not--evolved.

Branch said that the past 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic speech had brought "immense advances toward free and equal--what Dr. King called equal votes and equal souls in the United States" and paved the way for other advancements for women and other minorities.

"Basically race has always been the chief barrier, but it's also the gateway. When people deal forthrightly with race it pays other benefits," said Branch. "Now here we are, in 2013 we have benefits that make us optimistic we can tackle tough problems, but our politics is in gridlock largely because we don't deal with race and we don't acknowledge what we've done."

Bunch called race "the most important issue that divides us" and expressed hope that the Smithsonian's new museum, slated to open in 2015, could provide a place for all people to come together.

"For us, it's crucially important to craft a museum that forces us to discuss where we've improved in race and where this is a continuing battle for us to wrestle with," said Bunch. 

Branch said he hoped President Obama in his speech on Wednesday commemorating the anniversary would "talk about race in his own experience as it informs our partisan gridlock," and that partisan gridlock was "absolutely" at its "bottom racial."

"You look at the parties: One party averages 50% more white people and the other party averages twice as many non-white people per constituency," said Branch. "We're locked in these things. It didn't happen by accident."

"The truth of the matter is I don't ever believe you'll get to that point where you can step away from racial markers," Bunch added. "In some ways what you hope is that those markers begin to help us understand where the improvement has occurred. But I would argue we're always going to be grappling with questions of race."

Watch the video above to see the full conversation.