As Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Inauguration Day come together on the calendar, the second oath-taking by the nation’s first African-American president will involve two Bibles – one owned by King and the other by Abraham Lincoln. It seems a poignant way for President Obama to acknowledge the nation’s past as he ushers it farther into the future.
If not for Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, issued 150 years ago this month, the nation might not have advanced as far as it had toward freedom and equality by the time King articulated his dream. And if not for King’s activism, courage and sacrifice in the 1950s and ’60s, it’s hard to imagine that a young black man such as Obama would have had the rights and opportunities that enabled him to study and excel at the best schools, serve in a state Senate and the U.S. Senate, and be twice elected president of the United States.
How fitting that at the Greater Wichita Ministerial League’s King celebration, at 10 a.m. Monday at Wichita State University’s Hughes Metropolitan Complex, the featured speech will be the president’s second inaugural address, broadcast live. The event also will feature Mayor Carl Brewer, youth and adult choirs, and award presentations, including to City Council member Lavonta Williams and the Urban League of Kansas.
King, born 84 years ago, was a Baptist minister, not a politician. But during his short life he moved a country through the force of his will and words – on behalf of what he called, as he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize, “a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice.”
King remains a touchstone but more important a catalyst, changing hearts and minds. As Obama said at the 2011 dedication of King’s memorial, which sits near the Lincoln Monument on the National Mall: King’s “life, his story, tells us that change can come if you don’t give up.”