In years past we all have looked forward to celebrating and remembering the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as we recalled his leadership and contributions during the civil rights struggles. But today we are thinking about what Dr. King would say if he were with us as we celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African American President of the United States of America. I believe he would smile and say, “Thank you America, for part of my dream was realized when you looked at a man and his character and not the color of his skin.”
Few African Americans believed they would see this day in their lifetime. Yet thanks to Dr. King’s vision and Barack Obama’s attempt to realize that vision, this day has come to fruition. In less than five decades blacks have gone from having their voting rights abused to feeling they have a chance to sit in the highest seat in the country, while many white Americans felt ready to support a black presidential candidate. And now we will be in profound awe to see a black family in the White House, a place that was built by African American slaves. However, there have been others who predicted it would eventually happen.
I found it interesting to note that 51 years ago Jacob Javits, the liberal Republican senator from New York, incredibly, just a year after the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., predicted that the first black President would be elected in the year 2000. In a 1958 essay in Esquire magazine he wrote:
“What manner of man will this be, this possible Negro Presidential candidate in 2000? Undoubtedly, he will be well-educated. He will be well-traveled and have a keen grasp of his country’s role in the world and its relationship. He will be a dedicated internationalist with working comprehension of the intricacies of foreign aid, technical assistance and reciprocal trade. Assuredly, though, despite his other characteristics, he will have developed the fortitude to withstand the vicious smear attacks that came his way as he fought to the top in government and politics . . . those in the vanguard may expect to be the targets for scurrilous attacks, as the hate mongers, in the last ditch efforts, spew their verbal and written poison.”
Senator Javits was one keen prognosticator.
But Dr. King would remind us all that racism is not dead, intolerance is not dead, bigotry and anti-Semitism is not dead, that drug addition and related crime need to be addressed, teenage pregnancies are still too high, that high school and college dropouts are abysmally too high, AIDS is still running rampant in many of our communities and discriminatory practices still prevail.
Next month, as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the NAACP, there are still insurmountable civil right issues that the organization will be addressing, such as the enormous disparities in health conditions, in income and wealth, and in educational achievement, among other important issues. Therefore, Dr. King would urge us to dedicate ourselves to advocate for the underserved, the homeless, disability rights, labor and workers’ rights; for the victims of hate crimes and of the genocides in Darfur and the Congo. And, as Barack Obama faces the most challenging domestic and global issues in decades, we must support his efforts and pray for him and his family’s safety.
If the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were here today he would be jubilant, rejoicing at the beginnings of his dream, and that a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.
Marie B. Allen is first vice president of the Vineyard chapter of the NAACP. She lives in Oak Bluffs.