Abraham, Martin, and Obama
There is no longer any question of whether white Americans will accept a black man as their president. But I was an “Obama Girl” from the minute he finished his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. I believe it was Chris Matthews who spoke first that night when the pundits took their turn at him, and Matthews simply said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the next President of the United States.” It was that powerful.
And here we are, two days away from the fulfillment of that prophetic proclamation. The light bulb went on a little brighter over my head the day I heard a black woman being interviewed about the Obama campaign, and she said how much it meant to her that the children in the African American community, especially the boys and young men, have the chance to see that it is finally true in an inclusive sense that anyone can be President. Not just “anyone” in the archaic use of “any white male of a particular social stature” but Any One.
It strikes me that President Obama will be walking in the footsteps of some obvious heavy-weights in the journey toward racial justice in America. But it is not just Lincoln and King who paved the way for him. Of course their courage and voices and actions were pivotal. But I think it goes back further, and extends farther, to the individuals who were enslaved and the people who tried to change that system. And once slavery was abolished by law, it had to be abolished in our hearts.
Every time a white person spoke up against racial injustice, another chip was etched into the wall between white and black. Every time a black person’s story of success made it to the news, the cracks in the mortar widened. Chip by chip, crack by crack, and brick by brick, that wall was largely brought down. No one can look at the faces in the crowds across American on Election Day and say it was not.
Parts of that wall were harder to breach than others and some folks are still taking cover behind the remnants. But their numbers are fewer and their voices muffled, at least right now. Right now is our time to be happy again. To think maybe we all finally “got it” and our brother and sister citizens are back to being united instead of divided. I dearly hope that our euphoria lasts a good four years, and that we give Mr. Obama a fighting chance to fix the mess he has been handed.
Many weary souls have gone on to their reward without any reason to hope this could happen their lifetimes. There is a picture of the shoes of slaves that I took at the Good Hope Plantation in Williamsburg, Virginia last summer. The shoes were worn, dusty, sitting there empty on the dirt floor of the slave quarters. The light was dim. And the resulting photograph turned out to be grainy and a little blurred. But the image stirs me, because I imagine the former wearers of those shoes, and I think, finally, they can rest. And now, symbolically, they can rest from the struggle to be free both from the bonds of slavery and the bonds of injustice that had kept their children’s children from full status as human beings and citizens.