History in our own time

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 21, 2013

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of liberty …
— James Weldon Johnson
One hundred fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation, on the very day the nation honored the memory of famed civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Barack H. Obama took the oath of office Monday as president of the United States for the second time.
We are so bombarded with information and distracted by technology that we can easily miss the significance of the present moment. Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, was one of those moments.
Anyone who was alive 50 or more years ago, anyone who saw segregation and the fears and cruelties that scarred generations, would have to say Monday was a remarkable day. In our lifetimes, we have witnessed a sea change in race relations. They are far from perfect, but the principles so controversial when King first give voice to them decades ago have become part of our national DNA — as much a part of us as the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation. We have a dream. The equality that seemed so impossible during marches and sit-ins and ugly confrontations of the 1950s and ‘60s has moved the national focus from the color of the president’s skin to, as King would have it, the content of his character.
Obama is a controversial figure, at odds with the Republican-led House and unable or unwilling to bridge the divide. Again, not perfect. But he is resolute and ready to push on, one step at a time.
“Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time,” he said. “But it does require us to act in our time.…” — on health care, gay rights and gender equality, immigration reform, curbing gun violence, protecting our most vulnerable citizens. This is, after all, the only time we have. It is a much better era than we give ourselves credit for.