The spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. hung appropriately–and perhaps approvingly–over the second inauguration of Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States.
After all, it was Martin Luther King Day, a national holiday and, perhaps, it could not have been more divinely conscripted than it was. The weather was nippy, but the sun shone brightly. Perhaps a million people watched from the National Mall, not as many as the estimated 1.8 million who attended the first inauguration in January 2009, but still the second largest number in history to attend an inauguration.
The president took the oath of office with his left hand on the Bibles of both President Abraham Lincoln and Dr. King. Because of her father’s dated notations inside the Bible, said Dr. King’s daughter, Bernice, it is at least 59 years old, and possibly older. It was King’s “traveling” Bible, the one he took on trips with him, and the fact “that the leader of the Free World has asked to use it in his inauguration is very symbolic; the importance of connecting with that legacy and the inspiration of that legacy,” she told a reporter.
Bernice said she asked both Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who administered the oath to President Obama, and the president, to sign the Bible. Justice Roberts had actually administered the oath to Obama on Sunday, Jan. 20, which had to be done, because that was the day when the president’s term actually expired. During that session he used the Bible of LaVaughn Delores Robinson, first lady Michelle Obama’s grandmother.
However, to benefit the public, the inauguration was set for Monday, so Justice Roberts had to administer the oath again.
Dr. King was, expectedly, mentioned in the president’s 18-minute speech, but only once:
“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths–that all of us are created equal–is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.”
Still, Dr. King’s spirit pervaded the inauguration.
After the inaugural luncheon, President Obama and first lady Michele Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill, and Speaker of the House John Boehner and his wife Debbie, paused before a statue of Dr. King in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall. It was a moment of reverence, an acknowledgment of Dr. King’s legacy.
Later, when a CNN reporter spoke with Congressman John Lewis (D. Ga.) about the president pausing before the statue, Lewis told her: “I did everything possible today to keep from crying.” He told her he had seen Dr. King on many occasions reading the Bible as they traveled together.
Of course, King’s monumental presence, set in granite, presided over the proceedings as it gazed out onto the Mall.
The Associated Press noted several dozen people taking pictures of the King statue before heading to the National Mall, about a 15-minute distance from where the inauguration would be held.
Said the Associate Press story: “Nicole Hailey, 34, drove in with her family from Monroe, N.C., a six-hour trip that started at midnight. She attended Obama’s first inauguration four years ago and was carrying her Metro ticket from that day, a commemorative one with the president’s face printed on it.
“She and her family visited the King memorial before staking out a spot for the swearing-in.
“It’s Martin Luther King’s special day,” she said. “We’re just celebrating freedom.”
On Monday at the King Center in Atlanta, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, became the first Latino leader to serve as the keynote speaker for the commemorative service on the King holiday.
That was perhaps as it should have been. Latinos, who overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama each time he ran, have also taken up the mantle of Dr. King.
An article by Victor Garcia on Fox News Latino states that besides Obama, “Latinos are also honoring another African American that they dearly cherish–civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. It just happens that Rev. King’s birthday, a federal holiday, is also observed on Monday.
“It may come as a surprise to some to learn just how highly Latinos think of Rev. King. The city of San Antonio, the country’s seventh-largest and with a majority Mexican-American population, is home to one of the largest–some argue the largest–MLK Day marches in the country.
“Last year, it drew roughly 150,000 attendants and this year at least 100,000 were expected on Monday.
“San Antonio stands out on the American landscape as a unique big city that projects inclusiveness over rancor,’ Julian Castro, the city’s mayor and rising Democratic party star, told Fox News Latino. ‘The fact that our city has one of the largest MLK marches in the country reflects a history of different groups getting along for a greater purpose.’
“‘What’s going on in San Antonio is reflective of the deep sentiment Latinos feel for the legacy of Rev. King and the overall Black struggle for equality.’”
King Center CEO Bernice King says her father’s work is still unfinished.
“The same struggle and fight that he was addressing before he was assassinated is the same struggle and fight today,” she said. “For indeed, we must address poverty in America.”
King says the country needs to address how wealth is distributed. She says society should be about people, not the things we can accumulate.
President Obama’s speech was about her concerns and much more. It was a speech about equality and inclusiveness. It began:
“Vice President Biden, Mr. chief justice, members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:
“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. 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:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
“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 have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. 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.”
Obama’s speech also mentioned that “a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”
He went on to proclaim: “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.”
Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, gave the invocation, the first laywoman to do so. Her husband, a field secretary for the NAACP, was assassinated outside their Jackson, Miss., home on June 12, 1963.
“One hundred and fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation and 50 years after the March on Washington, we celebrate the spirit of our ancestors,” Evers-Williams said during her prayer. “May the inherent dignity and inalienable rights of every woman, man, boy and girl be honored. May all your people, especially the least of these, flourish in our blessed nation.”
She continued, saying that in times of despair and oppression, “we ask for your guidance toward the light of deliverance and that the vision of those who came before us, and dreamed of this day, that we recognize that their visions still inspire us. They are a great cloud of witnesses, unseen by the naked eye, but all around us thankful that their living was not in vain. For every mountain, you gave us the strength to climb. Your grace is pleaded to continue that climb, for America and the world.”
Reena Evers-Everett, the daughter of Medgar and Myrlie Evers, addressed an audience of 1,000 on Friday at Jackson State University, Mississippi’s largest urban institution.
“We were a club that nobody wanted to be a member of,” said Evers-Everett, speaking of the families of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers, three African American martyrs.
“As the keynote speaker for the university’s Martin Luther King Birthday commemoration, Evers-Everett stood less than two blocks from her father’s NAACP offices and three blocks from the historic Council of Federated Organizations where the great friendship of her father and Martin Luther King Jr. had been forged in the heat of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi,” reported Earnest McBride, executive editor of Caddo Communications News Service.
In Kenya, East Africa, “there was exultant singing and dancing in the streets of Nairobi and around Kenya as Barack Hussain [sic] Obama rested his hand on two Bibles and was sworn in as 44th President of the United States,” reported the Global Information Network.
“Images of this East African nation’s favorite son standing tall before a crowd of some 800,000 in Washington, D.C., were closely watched at the Kenyatta International Conference Center and on other large screens.
“In Kogelo, the western Kenyan village where his late father grew up and where his grandmother, Sara Obama still lives, residents feasted in Obama’s honor.
“Mama Obama spoke via Skype to Kenyans gathered in Washington, D.C., for an inaugural dinner. She sent wishes for ‘wisdom, good health and, very importantly, courage . . . . I pray for him every single day,’” she said.
In all, the second Obama inauguration, perhaps as much or more than the first, signaled a new day in America–for all people.