The year of 2013 was a 50th Anniversary of so many momentous events: the March on Washington, the Assassination of John F Kennedy. So many things came out of the latter: LBJ and the passage of the Civil Rights Acts, the Great Society, and the beginning of the social changes that have transformed America. Also the conspiracy theories that fed into the cynicism that led to Nixon and his cohorts gaining a foothold into America again.
Those who marched on Washington probably never thought there would be a black President for at least a century-the optimists probably thought it would take maybe 75 years before anyone came close. The night Obama first won, I couldn’t watch the TV. I felt sure that it would be a near-miss, and that I would have to wait for a second attempt and hope I lived to see it. I woke up to be pleasantly surprised at the result. And a second term? Amazing. I lived in fear of sorts during the second term-that he might not survive it. But the lessons the Secret Service learned after Kennedy meant that at least a lone gunman couldn’t cancel democracy anymore.
The March on Washington: at that time the struggle was simply to be treated like any other citizen. Accommodations were segregated by law in the South and by custom or personal inclination in the North. There were poll taxes, arbitrary literacy tests, and even in the Democratic Party there were factions less than thrilled about including black people in civic involvement other than as voters.
I grew up just knowing there were neighborhoods that were basically “no go” either to visit or to live there. I now live in one of those “no go” neighborhoods, and everything is fine. The various acts helped me get a non-discriminatory loan, to travel around without concern about being denied service, and at least enough education to qualify for a fairly decent Federal job.
I am old enough to remember the first black political breakthroughs-Harold Washington (Chicago), Carl Stokes, the scandal regarding Marion Berry. Then there was the first black Senator in Illinois, the First Black Governor. Signs things were starting to change both politically and even socially. The “do you want your daughter to marry one” no longer dominated political discourse in the parts of America there were people. Which mean votes were increasingly interracial and even interreligious.
In many ways these were the children of the Great Society. Taking down the legal barriers to freedom of movement, making it possible to get a college education with loans and grants, created a big enough black middle class and enough trained professionals who could qualify for a run. No longer was it the “Talented Tenth”, a very thin slice, but a growing number of 2 and four-year degrees.
I can see it in my own life. My parents never even finished high school-high school wasn’t a priority for people who could never afford to go to college, and even if they did go, had few appropriate jobs available anyway.
My generation have at least 2-year degrees, and my grand nieces and nephews have bachelor degrees (and the accompanying debt).
Zimmerman’s acquittal began the movement for police reform and gun reform. When any slug can own a gun and shoot someone for no reason except vague fears and prejudice, the whole rhetoric regarding guns and the laws regulating them (and we found out there was very little regulation) needs to change.
There was a leap year feel to this inauguration. Having January 20th of an inaugural year fall on a Sunday is rare, and meant that the public side of the inauguration was going to be on Monday. Basically it’s custom for that side. But the actual term is noon January 20th, regardless, so Obama had to be sworn in anyway the day of.