The Intersection of Obama and King and Why This Day Is Significant

4798There is a fascinating intersection between the life of Barack Obama and the history of Martin Luther King Jr.
In 2008, Candidate Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for the presidency on the anniversary of King's historic "I Have a Dream" speech of 1963. And this year, the president's second public inauguration falls on the very day the nation commemorates the 84th birthday of the slain civil rights leader. 

Indeed, there is yet another powerful symbolic connection between the nation's 44th president and the civil rights icon: Obama will take the oath of office with his hand upon King's personal bible. 

To many, Obama's second inaugural - indeed, his entire presidency - represents a slice of the vision King spoke of in the memorable speech he delivered the night before he was shot. In that emotional address, King said that he had been allowed to go up to the mountain and to look over. 

"And I've seen the Promised Land," King said. "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."

The election and reelection of the nation's first African-American president certainly represents a manifestation of the promise that King may well have forecasted for the future of this country. After all, when King was born there was but one Black member of Congress: Oscar DePriest of Chicago. When King died, there was only modest improvement: five in Congress and one in the U.S. Senate: Edward Brooke of Massachusetts.

Today, in the age of Obama, there are more than 45 Black members of Congress and one in the Senate: Tim Scott of South Carolina. There are dozens of African-American state officials and mayors throughout the country. Black Americans routinely fill positions that would scarcely have been imaginable in King's lifetime. 

Yet, electoral successes are likely to have been just a small part of King's mountaintop vision. Martin Luther King Jr., after all, led a life, particularly toward its end, providing attention and resources to the most marginalized of Americans: the poor, the unemployed.

And that is where one hopes the president will view his intersection with King as something of a relay. Clearly, Obama has already addressed the needs of Americans who have not had adequate health care coverage, which has been a particularly chronic problem in African-American communities. 

Source: BET | Jonathan P. Hicks
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