Capping two days devoted to praising the advances of the civil rights movement, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama attended the Broadway revival of "A Raisin in the Sun," a play about an African-American family in 1950s Chicago.
The play, which stars Denzel Washington, capped a rare evening out in New York for the first couple. They were in the city for activist Al Sharpton's National Action Network conference, which the president addressed earlier Friday.
The presidential motorcade froze traffic out of Times Square and drew crowds of onlookers who stood up to 30 people deep along Obama's route to catch a glimpse of his limousine and entourage.
Joining the Obamas at the Barrymore Theater for the critically acclaimed production were Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and sportscaster and former NFL wide receiver Ahmad Rashad.
Earlier, the first couple, Jarrett and Rashad joined poet Elizabeth Alexander, who read at Obama's 2009 inauguration, and friends Kelly and Andrew Dibble from Obama's hometown of Chicago for dinner at an Italian trattoria at the high-end Gramercy Park Hotel.
At the National Action Network conference earlier, Obama said the right to vote in the U.S. is under bigger threat than at any time since the Voting Rights Act passed nearly five decades ago.
"The stark simple truth is this: The right to vote is threatened today," Obama said.
The election-year warning comes as Obama seeks to mobilize Democratic voters to fight back against state voting requirements and early balloting restrictions that many in his party fear will curb turnout in November.
The president vowed that he would not let the attacks on voting rights go unchallenged, but offered no new announcements of specific actions his administration planned to take.
The president pinned efforts to curb access to the ballot box directly on the GOP, declaring that the effort "has not been led by both parties. It's been led by the Republican Party."
For the remainder of the year, no political issue stands out more prominently for Democrats than their ability to motivate voters to turn out at the polls in November. Control of the Senate, now in the hands of Democrats, is at stake, as is Obama's already limited ability to push his agenda through Congress.
But traditionally weak midterm turnout by Democrats coupled with efforts in some states to limit early voting and to enact voter identification requirements have prompted the president and his party to raise alarms and step up their get-out-the-vote efforts.
Republicans have long argued that identification requirements and other voting controls are reasonable measures designed to safeguard the balloting process, not to suppress voter turnout. Democrats say photo identification requirements especially affect minority or low-income voters who may not drive and thus wouldn't have an official government ID.
Published at 12:48 PM CDT on Apr 11, 2014 | Updated at 5:57 AM CDT on Apr 13, 2014
Copyright Associated Press