For all the meaning that will be on display when President Obama commemorates a seminal moment in US history today, it will be a largely symbolic moment that does not bring the change that the March on Washington demanded. This may have to be enough.
On this 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the nation’s first black president will address the country from the very spot where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his moving “I Have a Dream” speech – a rousing petition for an end to racial discrimination. The visual of President Obama on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial will be a powerful commentary on America’s progress, and will have special meaning for African-Americans.
The election of a black man to the presidency has forever changed the outlook of African-Americans, but it has not changed our circumstances. Mr. Obama's election was anticipated as the culmination of the two complementary, but distinct, events of August 28, 1963 – the march and the speech. These are often couched as synonymous when, actually, one was an activist demand for equal rights and the other an emotional plea for equality. In fact, President Obama is the embodiment of the King’s inspiring oration, but not the personification of the march’s black activism.
There is no question that African-Americans were, and remain, incredibly proud that the nation entrusted its highest office to a black man. Images from the night of the 2008 presidential election reflect the deep, emotional significance of that event. Many remarked that the election served as proof that the American dream was finally tangible, and that it would no longer be dishonest to tell their children they could achieve anything.
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