President Barack Obama's emphatic gay-rights advocacy in his inaugural address thrilled many activists. Yet almost immediately came the questions and exhortations as to what steps should be taken next.
CLEVELAND - This presidential Inauguration Day, which this year falls on the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday, could be called a case of bookends on the same shelf.
On one end of the shelf is the celebration of the life and legacy of the great civil rightists, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. On the other end is President Barak Obama, a present-day historical figure, also recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
As President Obama took the oath of office for a second presidential term, my mind raced back to the summer of 1963, to Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech. Both men delivered their words in Washington, DC nearly 50 years apart.
As the world watched that hot summer day in 1963 when King spoke on promises written in documents, but not kept, few could have dreamed there would be a black president of the United States. With King and the entire civil rights movement pushing to guarantee the voting rights for blacks and other minorities in much of the country, the thought of a black man accepting the oath of office in the highest political position in the land seemed as far away as another solar system.
However, through the push for equality, the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts of the mid-1960s became fact. It was then the arc of time began to change and the seeds of an open society began to grow.
President Obama is an outgrowth of that change. The 1963 moment of Martin Luther King speaking in front of the Lincoln Memorial is tied to the 2013 inaugural speech of President Obama speaking in front of the U.S. Capitol.
On Monday, we not only observe a president taking the oath of office for a second term in White House, but we also celebrate the concept of American democracy. On the platform with the president were members of both political parties, celebrating this country and this process of choosing leaders.
On Inaugural Day, we set aside politics, albeit if for a day, to celebrate the nation itself and the themes of democracy and freedom. They were themes voiced by King that helped turn America into a better nation. Fifty years ago, King spoke of "the people," referencing the "we the people" written in American documents. Fifty years later, President Obama voiced those same ideas, aware of the giant steps this nation has made in protecting the rights of all Americans, regardless of their races, genders, ethnicities, backgrounds and sexual preferences.
When Barack Obama raised his right hand, placing his left hand, on the Bibles used by Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, and took the oath, he became part of a long line of change that is still being drawn. President Obama stood in the light of presidency, itself, drawing from the inspiration and actions of Lincoln, who freed American slaves through the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 -- 150 years ago -- through Martin Luther King's "Dream" speech of 1963 -- 50 years ago -- to this Inauguration Day 2013.
Throughout all events, there is the phrase gleaned from the American documents: "We the people." That phrase is the backbone of this country. It is what this nation is all about. When President Obama accepted the oath of office to lead this country for another four years, he was part of a long line of historical events that were based on governance "of the people, by the people, and for the people."
That is what this nation is all about. It has been a long journey to get to that point, which continues to unfold, but that fact is the bedrock of this nation. Inauguration Day and Martin Luther King Day share this time and space. It is appropriate.
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