“President Obama represents the last lap of this unfinished race” to achieve equality, said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was near King on the day he was slain in Memphis.
The Obama-King moment is already imbued with a palpable resonance. “It is all so very deep to me,” said Clarence B. Jones, who in 1963 helped King draft his luminous “I Have a Dream” speech that he delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, opposite the Mall from the Capitol, where Obama will deliver his second inaugural address.
In the days leading up to the inauguration, Jones found himself in the throes of writing a letter to the president. “I’m going to ask him, ‘If you could just pause during your speech on Inauguration Day and look at the Lincoln Memorial, and then in the direction of the King Memorial, and say as you are taking the oath of office, “Martin, this one’s for you,” ’ ” he said.
Jones imagines that Obama might be more than a little introspective Monday. “It is magical,” he says of the confluence of events.
King: A guiding light
Nearly 45 after his death, King remains the lodestar when it comes to the great political causes launched in the United States.
It was his nonviolence movement, sweeping across the country in the late 1950s and early 1960s, that helped bring about passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill and 1965 Voting Rights Act, both of which began toppling the legal roadblocks that had inhibited black progress in the nation for so long.
Early in his presidential quest, Obama went to lengths to honor both the rhetorical and geographical landscapes of King’s life and legacy.
Just weeks after he announced his first presidential run in 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama ventured to the Brown Chapel in Selma, Ala.
In the annals of black history, Selma is unforgettable.
The church is where King in 1965 addressed civil rights groups that were working to register black voters. Their efforts were met with attacks by the Ku Klux Klan and actions by local law enforcement. King called it a “symbol of bitter-end resistance to the civil rights movement in the Deep South.”
On March 7, 1965, about 600 civil rights protesters — men, women and children — staged a march in Selma. They were viciously beaten and bloodied by Alabama state troopers. Some of the footage — ghastly and shocking — was shown on national television. It would come to be known as “Bloody Sunday.”
In 2007, standing inside Brown Chapel, Obama looked out across a congregation that included veterans of Bloody Sunday: “My very existence might not have been possible had it not been for some of the folks here today. . . . You see, my grandfather was a cook to the British in Kenya. Grew up in a small village, and all his life, that’s all he was — a cook and a houseboy. And that’s what they called him, even when he was 60 years old. They called him a houseboy. They wouldn’t call him by his last name. Call him by his first name. Sound familiar?”