I watched Barack Obama give his historic acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention last week. It put me in mind of some things that have been stirring around in my brain: Obama will make a fine international spokesman and symbol of America for the rest of the world. Most of the world is non-Caucasian, non-European. He looks more like a citizen of the world than just the U.S. He is also extremely articulate and bright. Did you see him stumble and fumble, tripping over his own tongue like our current White House occupant? No he didn't, because he has a clear gift for communication.
I thought about the long road that people of color have had to travel to put him in this position. It was over 40 years ago that images from the civil rights movement were being played out on nightly television news shows. At that time I don't think anyone ever considered that a Barack Obama would be running for president. Seriously running, not just in the race without a real hope of getting the nomination: Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton.
Recently I watched a History Channel feature, The Secret History of the Ku Klux Klan, from its founding in 1866 by Nathan Bedford Forrest to the current small, radical hate group it has become, as well as the other groups of haters it has spawned. At one point the Ku Klux Klan was a powerful force to be reckoned with, now it's a bunch of guys most rational people think are nuts.
In the 1960s, at the time of the Civil Rights Movement, there were no black people sitting in positions of national power, so the original civil rights bills were all signed by whites. But that was right and it was legal. In its own way the Ku Klux Klan caused the civil rights bills to be passed because they are idiots, murderous idiots. They thought that by killing civil rights workers, by bombing out a church where civil rights strategies were plotted, by killing Medgar Evers or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that the civil rights movement would go away, but they in fact made it stronger.
They didn't reckon on mass communication of the 1960s. When people around the world, including the United States, saw footage of the lunchroom sit-ins of the early 1960s they saw young black people in suits kneeling on the floor while leering, screaming white creeps poured garbage on them. Score one for the oppressed. When people around the world and in the U.S. saw footage of Alabama police using water hoses and police dogs on black demonstrators they were shocked. I know I was. What did the people do to deserve such treatment? Well, they bucked the established order, established for the benefit of white people.
When we heard stories about civil rights workers being lured to their deaths in Mississippi it only strengthened the cause they were fighting for. The peabrains who planned and executed the murders were KKK members. What they hoped to accomplish is moot, because what they actually accomplished was the opposite.
It's too bad that people had to die. Martyrs are powerful symbols, and unfortunately these people had to suffer being murdered in order to achieve that status. Had Dr. Martin Luther King not been killed in Memphis over 40 years ago, do you think he would have the same impact alive as he does now, four decades after his death? His assassin was trying to squelch his influence by killing him, and yet increased it tenfold, a hundred or thousandfold, by pulling the trigger.
Barack Obama is standing at the head of a line cast by history, backed by great people who had courage and fortitude. Some went to their deaths because they were doing the right thing.
I read recently that the younger generation doesn't think the same black-white terms that we, as their parents and grandparents, were taught to think. Black people are on TV every day, whereas they weren't much seen on TV when I grew up. Younger white people don't see a whole lot of difference in people of different races because they are more familiar with them. Television and mass communication, in a turn away from their exclusion policies of the past, have made it possible. When Barack Obama gave his speech on August 28, he was seen by people all over the world, not just in the U.S. With that familiarity comes trust.
Or, conversely, mistrust. The goons of the KKK and like-minded white supremacist-types, in spirit and in body, are still lurking around. Whether they belong to a group or are just hating on their own, they're out there and we have to be vigilant. History has taught us that when a person as important as Obama comes along he brings along a trail not only of supporters and admirers, but people with murder in mind. At this point in civil rights history the martyrs have been made and let's have no more of them. It's time for a Barack Obama to step out of the shadows of those men, that turmoil, those times, and be the leader he was meant to be.