By EMMA AMIAD
For The Beachcomber
It was 45 years ago that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. and closed his famous “I Have a Dream” speech with these words: “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last.”
It was those words that echoed in my mind as I heard Barack Obama declared the winner of the presidential race on Nov. 4, and now we are just days away from his inauguration as our nation’s first African-American president.
It has been 146 years since President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, setting slaves free in this country, thus ending years of shame that had torn our nation to pieces. It was 138 years ago that the 15th Amendment to the Constitution gave African-Americans the right to vote.
Only 44 years ago, in the lifetime of most living Americans, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act ending segregation, and it wasn’t until 1967, 41 years ago, that the Supreme Court struck down the laws, common in many states, against interracial marriage.
Regardless of your political affiliations or feelings about party rhetoric, regardless of our economic woes and the many challenges around the world, we should all feel enormous pride that as a nation we have come to this day. Not only have we voted for an African-American president, we have voted for a biracial one.
This doesn’t mean we have ended prejudice or hatred, unfortunately. But it does mean that the majority of Americans have demonstrated that they are willing to judge a man by who he is and what he stands for, instead of his race. It means we have sent a message to children of every race that in this country there is room for each of them to take their place as leaders.
This year, our new president will deliver the main address at the rededication of the Lincoln Memorial, on the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. It will be an historic event, and I can’t wait to hear what he has to say.
At 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 15, Dr. King’s birthday, I will do as I have done here for 20 years and organize a community commemoration of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King.
But this year it will be a special celebration! This year it will be a party! For those of us old enough to remember the ’60s and some of us who were active in civil rights, it will be a sweet moment.
Please join me for this wonderful, free event. The Presbyterian Church is hosting it this year. The Island’s newest musical sensation, the Free Range Folk Choir, will provide world music and gospel tunes, and we will join together to sing and celebrate that incredible fact that we have lived long enough to see Dr. King’s dream come true.
— Emma Amiad is a real estate agent and civic activist on Vashon.