On Monday, Jan. 21, Barack Obama will be inaugurated for the second time as President of the United States. The same day the nation celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It does not celebrate my birthday, which happens to be January 21, 1928, the year before Dr. King was born.
The two events celebrated Monday are not unconnected. Dr. King was an extraordinary civil rights leader who was gifted with intelligence, energy, passion, vision and superb oratory. Before he spoke to a huge crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 23, 1963, the election of a black man to be president of the United States was simply not possible. Excerpted below, this is what he said that changed that:*
"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, 'My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.'"
It is not too much to say that Dr. King’s speech reversed the course of racial segregation in the United States. He did not do it alone. There were many heroes who helped: children attended segregated schools often with the help of the military; women like Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus; lawyers like Thurgood Marshall fought segregation in the courts and later, as a Supreme Court justice continued the fight within the Supreme Court itself. Some blacks and other civil rights advocates were murdered (as was Dr. King) or badly beaten.
One of those heroes was Barack Obama. When he was first ran for president in 2008 there was no certainty that racial tension had abated enough in the United States to elect a black man president. It took courage and incredible talent to put himself forward as a candidate, and his first inauguration was a miracle. In a sense, Dr. King’s dream had been partially realized.
Obama’s first term was beset by viral opposition in very difficult times. There is no question that some of that opposition was based on racism. There is a close tie between the Tea Party and racist groups. This is not to imply that every Tea Party member is a racist, but the overlay of racists in that party is clear from the comments they make online--even on this site--and in the public press.
The fact that Obama is about to have his second inauguration is even more of a miracle. This time it is not that the country is less racist (although I think it is), but because the racial shift in our country has given minorities a much bigger say in our elections and, the predictions are, their power will grow in future elections.
I, personally, have a dream that shortly Obama will be able to overcome the opposition of the leadership of the NRA and succeed in instituting reasonable gun control in the United States. This involves no threat to Second Amendment rights, but merely the intelligence of the American people. I dream, too, that the Republicans will be wise enough to increase the debt ceiling without holding the poor and unemployed hostage. None of us can afford to decimate the full faith and credit of the United States.
As Hamlet said, "'tis a consummation devoutly to be wished."
*Note: To watch Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech in its entirety, click on the YouTube video thumbnail that accompanies this column.