Thirty-five years ago last August, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in front of a quarter of a million people and gave one of the most memorable speeches in American History. (My post from 2007 has the full text and an audio clip.) This speech was given when a large part of America still did not believe all men are created equal.
Today, in front of 10 or 20 times as many people, Barak Obama will be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, the first American of African descent to be elected to the highest post in the land. Many of called this the culmination of King’s Dream. Perhaps, another way to describe this momentous occasion is that our nation has reached the other side of the mountain.
I say this because King gave another speech in April 1968 in Memphis, the day before he was assassinated, in which he said:
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
And so I’m happy, tonight.
I’m not worried about anything.
I’m not fearing any man!
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!
When Obama raises his hand and is sworn in tomorrow, he is ushering in a new era in America. Our country is just two generations removed from race riots, water canons, church bombings, and other atrocities. It took almost a century to end slavery in our country. It took another century to end Jim Crow. But it took less than half a century for the ultimate declaration that we are truly one America.
Don’t get me wrong, I strongly disagree with most of Obama’s politics and policies, and that is why I voted for someone else last year. However, I will stand with many Americans and applaud our country, that we have understood that our diversity makes us stronger.
I am a firm believer that having leaders with different temperaments, talents, beliefs, and backgrounds is far superior to having leaders who are the same.
I know there is still racism in America, but it is growing weaker. Our popular culture still portrays African Americans as stereotypes. Socio-economic issues continue to trap too many people in cycles of poverty, and a disproportionate share of the poor are African-Americans. We still have a ways to go to get to the promised land.
But I believe we’re over the top of the mountain.