By Diamond Smith
Four years ago, America witnessed history right before its eyes. President Barack Hussein Obama was elected as the first black president of the United States. And for his second inauguration on Jan. 21, 2013, in
Washington, D.C., Obama was sworn into office in front of an estimated 800,000 to 1 million people. Fellow American citizens once again witnessed history.
President Obama placed the struggle over U.S. civil rights and race at the core of his second inauguration speech. The ceremony was conducted on the holiday that celebrates the wonderful achievements of the civil rights leader and activist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In President Obama’s opening speech, he echoed the Declaration of Independence saying, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Nearly 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by then- President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, which was a preliminary proclamation freeing slaves in the Confederate states (the South), African Americans still faced an unequal world filled with racism, discrimination, segregation, and various forms of oppression.
“Jim Crow” laws at the local and state level denied African Americans basic social, economic, and civil rights, such as the right to vote. Government leaders at the local and state level tried their best to exclude African Americans from bathrooms, restaurants, classrooms, buses and cars. Many African Americans fell victim to violent crimes. A group of white supremacists known as the “Ku Klux Klan” or “KKK” originally formed in the Southern states after the Civil War opposed the social change that occurred allowing former slaves to be free men. KKK members targeted mainly African Americans, committing horrific and sadistic acts such as rape, murder, torture and even lynching.
African Americans fought each and every day until they achieved equality. They did not want to be treated as second-class citizens nor did they want the color of their skin to determine their status in society.
By 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the “Separate but Equal” doctrine that made segregation legal as long as African Americans were granted equal opportunities and facilities such as transportation, education and jobs. It’s quite obvious that “separate” was not “equal.”
Here we are, citizens of the United States, 100 years later, seeing a black president lead our country two presidencies in a row.
In President Obama’s inauguration speech, “Faith in American Future,” he addressed issues such as racial equality, equal rights for gays and women, and climate changes.
President Obama paid tribute to the great Martin Luther King Jr. who would have been 84 years old and the African American people who fought long and hard to see all ethnicities functioning together. “Those men and women sung, and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we can not walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth,” said President Obama.
As thousands of people applauded the president, he marked another spot in history as being the first president to mention gay rights. “The journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law- for if we are equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” he said.
He also put climate change on his agenda for his second presidency. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling droughts, and more powerful storms,” he said.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that one day the beautiful United States of America would join together to break down the racial barrier that prevented them from embracing each other. He had a dream that we would “let freedom ring.” That we will be able to “speed up the day when all God’s children, black and white, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last’.”
President Obama has become living proof that the contents of one’s character trump the color of skin. For years, we African Americans have fought for equal rights and voting rights. We fought for not being classified as second-class citizens, as illiterate Negros, as barbarians and many other terms that African American was called. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done, but we can achieve it if we continue to work together.
In the wise words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. . .Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle.”