Where We’re Going, Where We’ve Been

When President Barack Obama took the oath of office on Monday, January 21, he was surrounded by an extraordinary legacy of 50- year civil rights milestones that helped make possible his first and second inauguration. It was fitting that the inaugural invocation was delivered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol by Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of civil rights hero Medgar Evers. After years of risking his life to end discrimination against Black Mississippians, Medgar Evers was killed by an assassin’s bullet in the driveway of his home 50 years ago on June 12, 1963.

Medgar Evers, ironically was killed just hours after President John F. Kennedy delivered a nationally televised speech in support of civil rights. President Kennedy, himself was assassinated only five months later, 50 years ago, on Nov. 22, 1963. President Obama took the oath of office holding a Bible belonging to another champion of civil rights and American Democracy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Fifty years ago, on Aug. 28, 1963, Dr. King inspired America and the world with his “I Have a Dream Speech” delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in front of more than 250,000 people during the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

The March on Washington was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Finally, President Obama was sworn in 50 years after one of the most horrific events of the civil rights era, the 1963 bombing of Birmingham, Ala.’s 16th Street Baptist Church, which resulted in the deaths of four little Black girls. The Birmingham church bombing galvanized the conscience of the nation and led many Whites to denounce racism and its brutal consequences.

Fifty years later, America’s first Black president has completed his second inauguration.

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