Thursday, January 24, 2013

Reflections on Obama's Second Inauguration and Martin Luther King Day

The Presidential Inauguration was held in Washington, DC on Monday, January 21, 2013. The official theme for the 2013 inauguration was “Faith in America’s Future,” commemorating the United States’ perseverance and unity and marking the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

This Monday also marked the second time a presidential inauguration coincided with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The first time this happened was in 1997 at Bill Clinton's second inaugural ceremony. One of the two bibles U.S. President Obama used for the second inauguration belonged to Dr. King, and the second was a bible owned by the 16th U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln. I provide links to the video and transcript of the second inaugural address.

The year 2013 is significant for two reasons. First, the struggle for freedom and equality was made possible by the support of national figures, such as Lincoln and King. From the end of slavery to the dawn of the civil rights movement, African Americans and other allies risked their lives through nonviolent action and the courts to ensure that all Americans had access to voting rights, civil rights, and equal opportunity. African Americans (e.g., Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Anna Julia Cooper, Ella Baker, Whitney M. Young, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer, etc.), as well as local people at the ground level (remember the college students in the Greensboro sit-ins?) pursued a path of self-determination with the goal of being recognized as equal citizens of this great nation.  

Second, we must remember that Lincoln and King were not always beloved by everyone. Both received assassination threats because their views challenged societal norms on racism. Lincoln was seen as a pariah for his decision to end slavery, and King was seen as a radical for his opposition to the Vietnam War. Both became saint-like heroes after their assassinations. We must remember that they made decisions during times where society as a whole did not support citizenship and equality for African Americans.

King always perceived himself first as a minster of the gospel. If you have listened to his last public speech, "I've Been to the The Mountaintop," King says these famous words: 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. 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.

That last line is from the opening of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. In the Bible, the people of Israel had to wander in the wilderness for forty years after Moses freed them from bondage in Egypt. His successor, Joshua, would eventually lead the people to the Promised Land. I believe that both Lincoln and King knew that they would not live to see the outcomes of their goals, but they had faith in the Lord that their efforts would not fail in vain. When I watched the 2008 and 2012 elections, I cried and shouted for joy because it was ordinary individuals (famous and non-famous) who risked their lives and paved the way for Barack Obama to become the first African-American president of the United States.
While we are living through tough economic times, 2013 marks a new beginning of hope and social progress. King's dream never ended in 1968; it continues to live on as long as Americans come together to make this great nation a place that embodies democracy, equality, and social justice for all.

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