For those few African Americans who claim they don’t feel the same sense of euphoria, think again: Monday’s inauguration of President Barack Obama was still all about making history.
I’ve overheard some black residents of Washington, D.C. talking about how Obama’s inauguration was no longer important, or somehow insignificant, because we’ve been there, done that in 2009.
Obama’s remarkable road to the White House as America’s first black president continued Monday with four more years in the Oval Office, which forever sealed an extraordinary legacy. It was not only a moment that filled millions of hearts with pride – it also filled hearts with hope.
“Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met,” Obama said during his 15-minute inaugural address.
“Starting today,” the president said, “we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”
Obama began a second term in the White House Monday after reciting the oath of office before an estimated 600,000 people — many of them African Americans — who traveled hundreds of miles to witness a poignant moment in American history.
Thousands of flag-waving Americans watched history unfold as Obama started the first day of his second term.
“Our journey is not complete,” Obama said.
No, it isn’t.
In the weeks ahead, Obama will likely hear from some of his black constituents – and his black critics — who want to see the president openly embrace his blackness and aggressively address issues of concern for African Americans.
Monday’s swearing-in ceremony, however, was the president’s understated way of showing the skeptics that he embraces the legacy of the civil rights movement and the black experience in America.
The president not only invoked the civil rights struggle in his speech on Monday, but he incorporated race into his inauguration by using two Bibles while taking the oath of office: One Bible owned by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the other used by Abraham Lincoln. King carried his Bible during the civil rights movement and Lincoln used his Bible during his first inauguration in 1861.
The president’s inauguration coincided with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington led by King, the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, where more than three million black people were freed from slavery. Monday was also the official federal holiday to honor King’s life and his contributions to America. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech 50 years ago at the Lincoln Memorial.
And Obama also included Myrlie Evers-Williams in the program. Evers, the wife of the slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, delivered the invocation for the inauguration.
“150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and 50 years after the march on Washington, we celebrate the spirit of our ancestors,” said Evers, invoking the spirit and the struggles of the civil rights movement and the Civil War. “We recognized that their visions still inspire us.”
And today, for Obama, after the inaugural balls have ended and the speeches have concluded, the hard part begins: The president will certainly be challenged to create initiatives especially for African Americans who are struggling financially. And many blacks say they have been very patient, but have endured four years too long.
“Everyone agrees that you wish more was done the first term,” Debra Lee, the chief executive of Black Entertainment Television, told The New York Times. “But you look at politics and realize that the president can’t wave a wand and get things done by himself.”
But Obama is asking Americans to stay the course.
“We are made for this moment,” Obama said Monday. “This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience. A decade of war is now ending. An economic recovery has begun. America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together.”
Not everyone was in town to see Obama’s inauguration speech. Many Republicans –congressional leaders, consultants, GOP loyalists — intentionally left Washington, D.C. before the inaugural celebration began.
“Shame on Republicans who had to leave town and not be a part of this,” said Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee.
But Bill Murrain, a former civil rights attorney from Atlanta, said he was proud to attend Obama’s inauguration with his 15-year-old granddaughter and didn’t mind standing in the chilly weather for nearly four hours.
“I never thought I would see this day,” Murrain said. “And I certainly never thought I’d see it twice.”
What about you?