On September 22, 1862, the President of the United States issued a proclamation:
“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom” (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/emancipation_proclamation/transcript.html )
In 1939, the well-known African American contralto, Marion Anderson, was banned by the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) from performing at what was to be an integrated concert at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.. Eight blocks away, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Ms. Anderson staged an alternative concert, attended by more than 75,000 people. She opened her concert by singing “My Country ’Tis of Thee.”
On June 12, 1963, African American civil rights leader Medgar Evers was shot to death by white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith in the driveway outside his home in Jackson, Mississippi. Waiting dinner for him inside, his wife and two children heard the shots. In 1964, Beckwith’s trial by an all-white jury ended in a deadlock. Beckwith was set free when a second trial by all-white jury also ended in a deadlock. The case was reopened in 1994, and Beckwith, then 73 and unrepentant, was found guilty by a racially mixed jury and sentenced to life in prison. Beckwith died in prison on January 21, 2001.
On August 28, 1963, Medgar Evers’ widow, Myrlie Evers was scheduled to stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and address the crowd along side Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Held up by travel delays, she didn’t make it. Five years later, on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, where he had come to lead a peaceful march in support of striking sanitation workers. Fifty years later, on August 28, 2013, Myrlie Evers-Williams made it to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and standing along side President Barack Obama, she spoke to the crowd, “There are efforts to turn back the clock of freedom and I ask you today, will you allow that to happen? … Stand your ground in terms of fighting for justice and equality.” (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/08/28/march-on-washington-myrlie-evers/2725031/ ) “Fifty years later, I might be a little tired…. I might be a little weary, but I can’t stop, because there’s too much at stake.” (http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/06/12/medgar-evers-widow-jim-crow-is-alive-in-a-brooks-brothers-suit/ )
On that same day, ABC News reported: “Unemployment among blacks remains in the double-digits, at 12.6 percent in July, nearly double the rate of whites. The median household income for a typical black family is just 60% that of whites – a gap that has grown since 2009. Nearly one in three blacks lived in poverty in 2011, almost double the national average. … [O]n nearly every major socio-economic measure, blacks have faced continued headwinds when it comes to catching up with whites. … The findings underscore the stubbornness of socio-economic disparities that have frustrated the African-American community and at times thwarted Obama’s attempts to address it. (http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/march-washington-obama-legacy-civil-rights-spotlight-anniversary/story?id=20067008&singlePage=true )
The president himself downplays, if not dismisses, the impact his race has had on the inextricable partisan gridlock and the “True Believers” in the Republican Party who seem to view blocking Obama at every turn as their holy mission. Others are more blunt. At a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of her husband’s assassination in June of this year, Evers-Williams said, “Look at some of the racist things that are still happening in America … . For instance when President Obama was reelected there was rioting at the University of Mississippi … . (http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/06/12/medgar-evers-widow-jim-crow-is-alive-in-a-brooks-brothers-suit/ )
In an interview earlier this year on “Meet the Press”, former Secretary of State Colin Powell condemned comments made by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. “There’s … a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the Party. … When I see a former governor say that the president is ‘shuckin’ and jivin’, that’s a racial era slave term. (Powell was referring to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin using the term to describe Obama’s response to the attacks in Libya.) (http://sayanythingblog.com/entry/colin-powell-republicans-still-look-down-on-minorities/ )
In January of this year the New Yorker reported:
“Responding to reports that President Obama is considering signing as many as nineteen executive orders on gun control, Republicans in Congress unleashed a blistering attack …, accusing Mr. Obama of “cynically and systematically using his position as President to lead the country.”
Spearheading the offensive was Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas), who charged the President with the “wanton exploitation of powers that are legally granted to him under the U.S. Constitution.”
… The Texas congressman said that if Mr. Obama persists in executing the office of the Presidency as defined by the Constitution, he could face “impeachment and/or deportation.” [presumably back to the land of his birth ….]
… Rep. Stockman said that he hoped his stern words would serve as a wake-up call to Mr. Obama: “Mr. President, there’s still time for you to get in line. But if you continue to fulfill the duties of´ President of the United States that are expressly permitted in the Constitution, you are playing with fire.” (http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/borowitzreport/2013/01/republicans-accuse-obama-of-using-position-as-president-to-lead-country.html )
I have often wondered if a white President Obama would be treated with such a mixture of animosity and disdain. Would a United States Congressman ever suggest that a white President Obama should head his “stern words” and “get in line”. As Colin Powell might have commented, there’s a tag that goes with that suggestion. It’s “Get in line, boy.”
Following the recent trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin, a nameless caller to a radio talk show commented, “We live in a country where – if you are Black - buying skittles in a hoodie can get you killed”.
Yesterday was a day of national reflection in the media on how far we have – or have not – come in these fifty years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered a speech that galvanized a movement and changed a nation. As part of a panel on NPR’s “On Point”, Reniqua Allen, journalist and fellow at Rutger’s New America Foundation, cited Trayvon Martin as a symbol of a nation of Latin Americans and African Americans who are still unable just to “be”. They cannot walk down a street without looking over their shoulder, worrying about their clothing, wondering if someone thinks they are a criminal. That is what she sees as the definition of freedom, the freedom from bondage to the idea of race itself, This is what Martin Luther King Jr. wanted for our nation – a world where everyone, regardless of race, could simply “be”.