In 1963 I was but a child. Still, I remember. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was in Detroit, marching down Woodward Avenue with a contingent of Civil Rights advocates and regular citizens.
It was a time of great movement in the world; JFK was President and the merging of politics and the Civil Rights movement was indisputable in America. Dr. King gave a great speech in Detroit in June, and in August on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC that speech was expanded and permanently imprinted in the minds of generations. The words "I Have a Dream" became a rallying cry and an anthem for a nation's drive toward a more perfect Union.
The struggles were horrific. Within months we lost President Kennedy. Within just a few years his brother Bobby and Dr. King were also gone. There were race riots in the streets. My family lived in the suburbs northwest of the Motor City and I recall watching the National Guard and US Army tanks moving down I-75 on their way to quell the riots that tore up large areas of Detroit in 1967; some of that damage is still visible in the hardest-hit parts of the city. Tanks and machine guns, used inside of American borders by American troops against American citizens. Against people of color.
Yes, the struggles were horrific.
While it may be true that the struggles are not yet over and that we are not yet living in that perfect Union, we find ourselves on the eve of such a large victory that I find euphoria difficult to contain.
Here, on the official day set aside to honor Dr. King, we are on the eve of an historic inauguration. Barack Obama is not simply the first African American to be elected President, he is, in the words of General Colin Powell, "a transformative" figure in American politics. With a grace and strength that promises to unite people across many divides, he has awakened in me a spark that had long been buried under the cynicism of one who had watched many of her heroes taken away too soon. He has brought America to a place where we believe that, "Yes, we can!"
Dr. King's dream is at last coming true. Thank God Almighty, true at last!
I found a very moving video/musical tribute -- I recommend it highly! -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3QMscDVjTE