Yes We Can Dare to Hope ... But We'll Need to Work Hard to Bring Real Change
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
On Tuesday, I dared to hope.
I even felt a little patriotic.
I was among the 2 million people who assembled on the Washington Mall to witness the moment. I was willing to come all the way from California, pay the airfare -- and leave the carbon footprint -- in order to join my daughter, Kalila, in watching history being made.
I have written a series of articles raising concerns about various positions Barack Obama had staked out during the presidential campaign and, in particular, raising questions about some of the appointments he has made. I will no doubt write more such articles over the next four to eight years.
And yet I was able to shed tears of joy on a number of occasions Tuesday. I wasn't just relieved that a Democrat had won the White House. I was actually (what's this strange feeling?) happy.
Kalila, a student at Earlham College in Indiana, and I arrived at the Washington Mall in the predawn hours to get as close to the Capitol as possible without tickets. Most of the people in our segment of the mall who had also made the effort to arrive at 4 a.m. were African Americans, many of whom had traveled great distances -- not without financial and other sacrifices -- in order to be there in person to watch a black man inaugurated as president of the United States, something few of them imagined they would ever see.
We entertained each other singing some of the great spirituals popularized during the civil rights struggle I had learned in my youth in the early 1960s when my father taught at Tougaloo, a black college in Mississippi, where he served as faculty adviser for the local chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. From out of the darkness in the subfreezing temperatures came the sounds of "Woke up This Morning With Mind Set on Freedom," "Keep Your Eyes on That Prize," "This Little Light of Mine" and "Lift Up Your Voice and Sing."
Growing up in the South, I have vivid memories of Jim Crow laws. Although my family and I were white, virtually all our neighbors were black, and while the violence toward us was limited to some random gunshots fired at our house, the reality of the fear from repression by state authorities was all around me, along with the daily humiliation my young friends and their parents experienced from segregation. I could go to almost all the movie theaters, playgrounds, amusement parks, fast-food outlets and engage in as many other recreational activities a child could want, but I could not go with any of my friends.
Against all odds, people organized, faced down the attack dogs and fire hoses and forced an end to that kind of legal discrimination in America. People of color were able to take on new positions of leadership once denied them. At the same time, however, there was no question that real power remained almost exclusively in the hands of white men.
Yet here I was, in the nation's capital, watching an African American being sworn in as president of the United States. A man who, as a boy, would have been considered illegitimate in Mississippi and nearly two dozen other states for having a white mother and a black father. A man who is married to a descendent of slaves who grew up in the largely segregated black neighborhoods of South Chicago. A man who for years worked as an organizer in the black community and was strongly influenced by the progressive theology of the black church.