Today would have been the 80th birthday of the esteemed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Tomorrow the United States of America will inaugurate our first ever African American president, Barack Obama.
On that November day in 1963, when Dr. King delivered his stirring “I Have a Dream” speech against the backdrop of the Lincoln Memorial, he spoke about the true meaning of democracy.
Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
It was only fitting, then, that on November 4th, when Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech in front of a Chicago crowd 100,000-strong, that he echoed and answered King’s call for true democracy.
It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.
But does the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States mean that Dr. King’s dream has finally been realized? That we have fulfilled his dream that “one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed… that all men are created equal.”? Did the vitriolic power of racism and inequality die the night Obama accepted victory in Grant Park?
The answer to these questions remains to be seen. But what we do know is that the citizens of the United States elected an African American president by overwhelming popular and electoral vote when, less than four decades ago, many black men and women were still being denied their right to vote.
And we know that Obama’s victory was won, in no small part, by the demographics of white men voting for him. In fact, white men voted for Barack Obama in higher numbers than they had voted for any other Democratic candidate since Jimmy Carter, including the two-term president Bill Clinton. This vote came despite the pundits who told us that whites, particularly white men, would not really vote for a black candidate in the end. There was no so-called “Bradley effect.”
On January 20th, the day after our nation celebrates the birth and legacy of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., we will inaugurate our 44th President. And on that chilly January day, Barack Obama, his wife Michelle and their two young daughters, Malia and Sasha, will stand as much for a new direction and bold leadership as they do for humble hope and a nation’s reconciliation.
Where 43 white men have stood before him, Barack Obama will take his oath of office, epitomizing if not the the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream, than surely one very optimistic step in that direction.
Happy Birthday, Dr. King. Welcome to the Oval Office, President Obama.