ENJOYING THE WALK—President Barack Obama walks the inaugural parade route walk down Pennsylvania Avenue en route to the White House, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
by Rebecca Nuttall
Courier Staff Writer
America’s first Black president, Barack Obama, was approaching seven years old when civil rights legend Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. King died leading the fight for racial equality and nearly a half-century later, on Jan. 21, the day America celebrates King’s life, President Obama was inaugurated for his second term in the White House.
“Each time we gather to inaugurate a President we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy,” President Obama said in the opening of his inaugural address. “We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional—what makes us American—is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago.”
Quoting from the Declaration of Independence, and mirroring the wording of the Constitution, Obama didn’t mention King by name once in his inaugural speech. However, King’s ideals made up the backbone of Obama’s address as he urged the country to act now to help all Americans achieve equality.
“Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth,” Obama said. “The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.”
This year marks the marks the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Abraham Lincoln and the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. President Obama celebrated these milestones by using both King and Lincoln’s bibles when he took the oath of office at the U.S. Capitol.
“It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts,” Obama said. “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law. For if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
Obama’s speech had a more pragmatic tone than presidents of the past and his own four years ago. In it he advocated for fair pay for women, gay rights, and immigration reform as paths toward equality.
“There are still obstacles to overcome, however President Obama’s (inauguration) today illustrates that everything that (King) fought for is not in vain. The spirit of (King) lives in our hearts and minds. He inspires us that the dream that he didn’t live to see is now within our reach—equality perhaps,” said Karen Cunningham responding to a request by the New Pittsburgh Courier for reactions to the event. “Our President Barrack Obama and the first lady inspire us that now we can be today what we only dreamed of yesterday.”
The inauguration featured other notable appearances including Myrlie Evers-Williams, the former chair of the NAACP and widow of Medgar Evers, who delivered the invocation. This year also marks the 50th Anniversary of Medgar Evers’ death.
Between 800,000 and 1 million flocked to the National Mall to be a part of the 57th Presidential Inauguration. There they heard from a diverse array of performers and speakers including national recording artist Beyonce Knowles and poet Richard Blanco.
“I was extremely proud of our president and his family. I felt that the inauguration was reverent and classy and I was extremely impressed with the diversity displayed in every aspect of the program,” said Barbara James, another respondent. “In my 59 years I have not seen many times where African-Americans openly declared their love for this country but all of that changed in 2008 and now, again, January 21, 2013. May God bless our president, his family, and America.”