Today, we celebrate what would have been Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 80th birthday — and on the day before Barack Obama is sworn in as the first-ever black President in American history. It’s appropriate that both events should occur not only this week, but also in the first month of this year, as well as the latter part of this decade — but more importantly, it’s the start of a new era for not only the United States, but also the world that we live in.
There was once a time when one or more generations thought that African-Americans would never go far, that they’d never be anything more than second-class citizens. However, by the time the Civil War began, African-Americans like Harriet Tubman (a key figure in the Underground Railroad that helped to give black slaves their freedom) and Frederick Douglass (one of the country’s first black politicians) would start to prove both skeptics and bigots wrong, simply by proving that they had much to offer, not only to their race, but to all mankind. By the mid-20th Century, African-Americans were already shattering not only the myths that had existed ever since they were forced to leave Africa almost 200 years ago, but also the stereotypes created by said myths that were on view in various forms of mass media for over a half-century, which are now politically incorrect in today’s world — entertainers like Armstrong and Ellington, and trailblazers like Carver and Parks remain not only an inspiration to generations, but also reminders of what African-Americans are capable of doing, and what they can accomplish. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. no doubt knew this lesson well when he began both a mission and a quest that went beyond the mere superlatives that described it (and rightfully so): to insure equality not only for his own race, but for everybody else in America (and the rest of the world), including those descended from all of ethic and racial origin, including Jews, Hispanics, Asians, Arabic, etc. The non-violent methods that Dr. King and his followers employed during the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s not only remain legendary, but also an inspiration for today’s generation — and all those yet to come.
If Dr. King were still alive, I wonder how he’d feel about Barack Obama becoming our latest U.S. president. In my opinion, Dr. King would be proud of the fact that an African-American is now leading our century — but I’m sure that President-elect Obama would agree with Dr. King’s sentiments that there’s still a lot to be done before the various prejudices — including racial and ethic — that still exist in the world become, hopefully, a thing of the past. If President-elect Obama succeeds in that task, he’ll not only be as great a man as Dr. King — but also, in the long run, one of the greatest politicians of the 21st Century. And one of the greatest in recorded history. In an already-troubled century, we need men like Barack Obama to point the way towards a better future for not only the United States, but the rest of the world as well.
To which we all say — amen.
January 19, 2009