Obama’s victory doesn’t erase history

Opinion

King’s dream still far from reality

Barack Obama’s inauguration represents a giant step in the history of race relations in the United States, but it still only represents one step.

The unfulfilled dream

Martin Luther King, Jr. passed away 41 years ago this coming April. He worked tirelessly during his life to further the cause of equality among the races. Signs of racism stood nearly everywhere during King’s life. Water fountains designated as “for whites only” not only kept different races from getting a drink of water, but also represented a sort of line in the sand that could not be crossed without consequence.

Brave souls did cross lines in those days, but often felt the sting of a fire hose or the thud of a police nightstick for their act of defiance – and those were the lucky ones. Some, such as NAACP activist Medger Evers, lost their lives because of the color of their skin. Countless others lived in constant fear of physical violence.

Vigilante law

Mobs once circumvented due process by serving as judge, jury and executioner. Lynching was once a fairly common occurrence, with 4,743 instances between 1882 and 1968, according to a 2005 FoxNews report. That article centered on that fact that the Senate failed to pass anti-lynching laws. In fact, the Senate apologized in 2005 for its non-action on this issue. Nearly 200 bills were introduced to establish a law, but none were successful.

From screams to whispers

The world today bears little resemblance to the world in which King lived. People of all races now live and work beside one another. Mixed couples and children no longer worry about angry mobs beating down their door in the middle of the night. Colleges and businesses can no longer exclude people based on race.

Once upon a time, loud screams of hatred and racism could be heard on nearly every street corner. Politicians and police wanted and actively pursued segregation on behalf of their constituents.

This is no longer the case.

Racism has now gone underground. The screams have been replaced by whispers. Our nation once wore racism proudly on its sleeve and loudly boasted of the supremacy of the white race. Even the original U.S. Constitution –Article I, section 2, paragraph 3 – said that if one was Black, one was only three-fifths of a man. Those boasts now happen behind closed doors and under the breath. Racism has not gone away, it has just burrowed beneath the surface.

Post-Obama America

What then does Obama represent in the story of American race relations?

His election does not erase the history of violence and hatred that defined the plight of African-Americans in this country for so many decades. Racism will likely always exist, but the footprints made by the sacrifices of people like King and Evers allows people like Obama to have better footing on the journey toward true racial equality.

And every journey, after all, is nothing but a series of small steps.

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