Last evening was very emotional for me and this morning, when I watched Obama’s acceptance speech, even more so. When America stirs itself to action for the right reasons, it can be a wonder to behold.
It will take a while for the significance of Obama’s victory to sink in. But when I saw Jesse Jackson weeping in the park in Chicago last night, my thoughts turned to 1968 and Martin Luther King.
King visited London in 1964 (on route to Oslo to pick up the Nobel Peace Prize). He was photographed in Embankment Gardens with his closest associate, Ralph Abernathy.
The night before he was murdered in Memphis, he gave one of his typically inspired speeches. The following are some extracts from that speech:
If I were standing at the beginning of time and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?”… I would turn to the Almighty and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy.” Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding – something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya: Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee – the cry is always the same – “We want to be free.”
And another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we’re going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence.
That is where we are today. And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done, and in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I’m just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period, to see what is unfolding.
I can remember, I can remember when Negroes were just going around as Ralph has said, so often, scratching where they didn’t itch, and laughing when they were not tickled. But that day is all over. We mean business now, and we are determined to gain our rightful place in God’s world.
And that’s all this whole thing is about. We aren’t engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying that we are God’s children. And that we don’t have to live like we are forced to live.
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land! I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land!”
I don’t think I expected to see an Afro-American elected President in my lifetime. Obama’s victory is a watershed moment by any standard – and for the world, not just America. Regardless of his political impact, he has already made the world a better place, where more people can dare to dream.