History would probably say that Martin Luther King was the first Black man to capture the hearts and minds of a generation, to inspire men and women of all races to recognise the justice of equality and to have a profound and long lasting effect on modern society.
But what about the other Black man ?
The other Black man is, of course, Barack Obama.
On Tuesday, January 20th Barack Obama took the Oath of Office of the American Presidency and for that alone whatever follows, be it good, bad or indifferent, his name will always be remembered for the being the first African-American President of the United States.
It was truly a significant moment for the world, the United States and for Barack Obama; a moment that perhaps only those who have shared a similar struggle can truly appreciate. In Britain, this personal triumph was matched by the election of Margaret Thatcher, the daughter of a green grocer who rose from obscurity to become the first British female Prime Minister in 1979.
Barack Obama's achievement as an African-American is no less great but no doubt many women will be pleased that he has found a place for Hillary Clinton in his government. Like Margaret Thatcher, she has made great in-roads for female emancipation in the United States and in her own way her journey has been equally as tough and demanding as Obama's. Living out the greater part of your life in the public domain and having your privacy stripped away is no mean feat for any man or woman but to keep on battling as she has done is a remarkable achievement.
In all likelihood, it could have been easy for Obama to spurn the woman who could have destroyed his dream but it says much of his demeanour that he has not done so. It's possible he believes it is better to have the enemy within but it is unlikely. His motives, his beliefs and ideals appear fundamentally sound. His desire to restore America's reputation and to promote justice, equality and morality both within the United States and abroad is highly commendable; it is the source of much renewed and positive thinking around the world about the role of the United States as a defender of democracy and as a peacemaker.
Whether or not, Obama's ambitions are deliverable are another matter. Dreams come at a price and that price may not, eventually, be one he can bear; it may even cost him his life. But the truth is, it is not a dream he can fulfil without the assistance of women like Hilliary Clinton, of his Black and White supporters, or indeed every man, woman and child, whatever their origin, who believes in equality. Not just the equality of race, religion and politics but the equality of health, happiness and personal freedom.
It is only the outset of the 21st century but already the world faces enormous challenges. Global economic ruin and continuing climate change are uppermost in the minds of people all over the world. There is no doubt that many believe that this a period of transition, of change. The election of Obama has come to signify more than just the acceptance of Black freedoms but to represent hope; a hope that throughout the world we can learn to be tolerant, forgiving and accepting -so not only can man live with bread and water upon his table but also be free from the horrors of war, terrorism and persecution.
But change is difficult. Many people, institutions and nations are inherently afraid of change, especially when it means finding alternative solutions, giving up privileges and accepting new ideas. The process of change too can be just as bloody, cruel and intolerant as the old ways and only history decides whether actions performed in the name of change are justified.
As the leader of arguably the world's most powerful nation Obama's path will be strewn with obstacles from those who resist change. Stones will be hurled from all sides; they will strike and he will stumble. Obama will have to tread carefully; he may choose to walk the path of platitude and diplomacy or he may confront the challenges head on. Will it be possible for him to pick his way through the debris of the 20th century without incurring wrath? Only time will tell.
It was perhaps disappointing to learn that the inauguration speech was the work of a 27 year old writer, although undoubtedly Obama's contribution was significant. But on reflection, maybe it is indicative of Obama's sincerity; it would have been easy for him to have written a speech doused in rhetoric and hyperbole, or to have adapted Martin Luther King's I Have A Dream, or stir the masses up into a fever. But the speech didn't generate goosebumps, or make hairs stand on end or queues for his memoirs but it was well structured, solid and substantial. It was considered and that made it strong. And believable.
But words are just words. We write them down, record them and we even act them. But they cannot replace actions. So while Obama has spoken the words of a man who desires change and progress only his actions will be his real voice. His actions will be his legacy.
Martin Luther King's words, actions, and ultimately his tragic death made his place in history and now we must wait and see what the future holds for his protege. There's no doubt the task ahead of Obama is beyond that of one man but whatever the outcome, whatever the future, maybe finally Martin Luther King can rest in peace.
Because the other Black man is here and he has friends.
Copyright Jane Turley 2009
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