On April 16, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote the following from the Birmingham, Alabama city jail.
Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.
Today, Barack Hussein Obama II will take the Oath of Office. Just 46 years ago, the most prominent black man in America was jailed for seeking simple justice. In the space of merely two generations, the most prominent black man in America becomes the 44th President of the United States.
When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. — “I Have a Dream“
Today’s inauguration represents the culmination of tremendous change and is a testament to the hope and dedication of all the millions and millions of Americans who have ever fought for equality, justice, and liberty. This moment is deservedly historical and Americans are right to be proud, but it is not the culmination of our struggle.
I hope to see more victories like this one. I hope to see the fight against intolerance, ignorance, and injustice continue apace. The first woman President. The first Native-American President. The first Jewish President. The first homosexual President. The first President to embrace sane economic policy.
We will wake tomorrow and today’s problems will persist. Our economy is stagnating, our debt is rising, growth is slowing, discrimination still exists, intolerance and ignorance remain, and we remain the target of barbarous thugs. The struggle continues.
Liberty is not seperable; it cannot be parsed into races, sexes, or categories. We cannot slice our freedom in two, extending “personal” liberty while trampling “economic” liberty. We cannot secure our borders by violating the rights of citizens, and we cannot pursue happiness if we are shackled by rising deficits and growing debt.
The struggle for the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is a struggle against ignorance, prejudice and corruption. The extent to which we cherish reason, respect individual rights, and punish graft and theft, is the extent to which we succeed.
Here’s hoping for more victories.