It was a cold night in Chicago’s Grant Park. Teeth chattered, bodies swayed, and breaths wisped through the air. Cool winds chilled fallen tears, and as the night raged on, thousands in Chicago fixated their eyes unto an empty stage—millions in America fixated their eyes unto an empty stage—billions around the world fixated their eyes unto an empty stage. It is not often we can predict history. Rarely do we have the foresight to know when something is historical before it even happens. The universe understood the magnitude of this night, though; this cold November 4th. It was 2008, and a dark-haired, caramel-complexioned, African American man by the name of Barack Obama was to soon take the stage with his African American wife and children. He was to soon accept his elected position as President of the United States. It was history.
It was a sweltering afternoon in Washington D.C. Paper booklets sufficed as fans and beads of sweat sparkled in the sunlight as they trickled down foreheads. With sore feet, thousands in Washington D.C. shifted their attention unto a podium at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial; Millions in America shifted their attention unto a podium at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial; Billions around the world shifted their attention unto a podium at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. By now, we know this day to have been a special one. By now, we know this day to have been an historical one. It was August 28th, 1963, and a void at the base of the Lincoln Memorial was to be filled by a reverend from Atlanta, Georgia; a void was to be filled by a man capable of galvanizing a nation: The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was history.
In 2013, recognition of Martin Luther King holiday happens to coincide with the second-term inauguration of our nation’s first African American President—a fitting coincidence for two men linked eternally by the strands of history. Any attempts to disassociate the two from one another are in vain, for Brother Martin King was a dreamer; President Barack Obama, a product of his dream. The equality—the humanity—the decency—which colored Dr. King’s dream, decorated the pathway for Barack Obama’s ascension to the Presidency. President Obama’s election did not signal an end to racism, nor did it mend the oppressive afflictions hampering the African American community. But that the nation indicated a newfound level of racial tolerance—even incrementally so—is a testament to the tireless work of Dr. King.
Comparisons between brother Martin King and President Barack Obama are often met with reluctance, though. Martin Luther King, Jr., is a figure revered to the utmost degree by the African American community, and as a result his name is defended fervently. It is important to remember, though, that in celebration of Dr. King, we celebrate a man who was, in many ways, quite ordinary. Martin King loved as we all do. Martin King learned as we all do. Martin King wept as we all do. Martin King feared as we all do. Martin King laughed as we all do. Martin King had vices as we all do. Martin King was, on many accords, quite ordinary. Yet, it was his ordinary persona which made him relatable and gave him the power to galvanize an entire nation of oppressed peoples. Martin King was ordinary in every way but in his activism; his bravery, his foresight, and his virtue. We ought to forever honor Dr. King, but his name must not be deified in a way that undermines the intricacy of his actions. We must recognize his ability to navigate politics and people, and we must recognize his fluency in the languages of both. In this sense, Dr. King was bilingual, and it is that skill which he seems to share most clearly with President Barack Obama.
The question of pride, as it relates to the African American community, shadows the Obama presidency. Those who warn against pride suggest it will breed complacency among African Americans, and those who encourage pride cite it as an integral trait for upholding history. Frankly, denying the historical significance of the Obama presidency is just as naïve as denying history we now know to be true. We cannot deny Dr. King’s contributions to society, nor can we deny his rightful place in history. President Barack Obama, then, as one of the leading actors in brother Martin’s ongoing dream, is destined to claim his own spot in history.
It was in Chicago’s Grant Park, on November 4th, 2008, that a President-Elect Barack Obama stood before thousands to declare victory. And in words seemingly directed to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—in words he’d probably uttered at some point in Dr. King’s dream—President Obama said this: “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible—who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time—who still questions the power of our democracy—tonight is your answer.” It was history.