Obama's inaugural address invoked the syntax and themes of Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I have a dream' speech, and, on the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the president took the oath of office on Bibles used by Lincoln and King.
On a day already steeped in national symbolism, Barack Obama added a few more iconic touches for his second inaugural – moments of high political theater meant to illustrate the president's values and priorities.
Of course, as the first black US president, he adds a powerful symbolic element to the day simply by showing up.
Many in the largely black crowd on the Mall said they braved the horde so that their children could have the experience of seeing the president.
“It’s a life-changing experience," says Michelle Brown, a Detroit public schoolteacher, who spent a long day with a busload of 14- to 17-year-old students to get here. The first election of a black president was historic, she says, but the second is “awesome.” “Our children can see that anything is possible.”
For the second time in American history, a presidential inauguration fell on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But it also fell on the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, whose iconic moment took place at the far end of the National Mall with the Rev. Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech.
Mr. Obama invoked the syntax and themes of that speech in his own address, as he referred to “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.”
“It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began,” he added.
Team Obama amplified this coincidence of calendar and inauguration at key points throughout the day. One was the choice of the Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. Bibles for the swearing-in. The Lincoln Bible had been used only once since President Lincoln used it for his first inaugural – and that was by Obama during his first inauguration. The King Bible had never been used during an inauguration.