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A More Perfect Union

Posted: Nov 06, 2008

Where shall I start? I am overcome with emotion because today is a day I never thought I would live to see.

When I was growing up in Alabama, waiting rooms, restrooms, and water fountains were still labeled White Only. You remember. You saw the movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane PIttman. I lived through Brown vs the Board of Education, although I was scarcely older than Linda Brown. I remember the Montgomery Bus Boycott sparked by Rosa Parks. I remember George Wallace standing in the door of the University of Alabama to block the entrance of Vivian Malone, I remember the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that killed four little girls, I remember the dogs and fire hoses of Bull Conner and the pictures in Life Magazine, I remember the first Selma to Montgomery march, the unsuccessful one.

I remember the beatings and murders of civil rights workers, I remember lynchings. I remember the assassination of both John F. and Robert F. Kennedy and the assassination of  Martin Luther King, Jr.. Sometimes I remember too much and there is much I wish I could forget.

I lived through Vietnam and I thought we as Americans had learned our lesson, but then we demonstrated that we had learned nothing by making the same mistake again in the Middle East.

But on Tuesday, for the first time in many years, I was once again proud to be an American. Not just because an African-American was elected to the highest office in our land, but because we as Americans spoke out in one voice for a new America-- an America where "all men are created equal" and where people are judged "not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Most of all, I was proud to live in a land where people understand that just because someone has a name that sounds foreign, even frightening, does not mean that he or she is a terrorist.

Less than four years ago, I discovered a young senator named Barack Obama. I chanted the little ditty "Obama not Osama" to help people understand the difference-- probably not a good idea as I look back. I examined his record and his history and what he stood for, and I said to myself, "If this man can secure the nomination for President of the United States, he will be the person who can lead us into the promised land."

Now, believe me, I have no illusions about the promised land. I just know that the promised land will have a different ideology and that is all that matters to me.

Over one hundred years ago, a Republican President, Theodore Roosevelt, invited an African-American, Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, to have dinner with him in the White House. President Roosevelt wrote to Washington "When are you coming north? I must see you as soon as possible." The public reaction was immediate. The headline in the Atlanta Constitution blasted, "President Roosevelt Proposes to Coddle Descendants of Ham. " The Chattanooga Times grumbled that Roosevelt "went out of his way to offend the American idea of propriety and social distinction" and Ben Tillman, future senator for South Carolina, thundered, "Social equality means decadence and damnation."  On Tuesday Virginia, the state where Booker T. Washington was born a slave, voted for a Democrat for President for the first time in forty-four years.

On Tuesday, November 4, 2008, over a century since President Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to dinner, we have elected an African-American to take up residency in the White House, and we have vested in him the power to shape the future of this country. Due to such predecessors as the Roosevelts---both Theodore and his distant cousin Franklin, a Democrat, who provided models for progressivism and tolerance--we can trust that Barack Obama has learned the lessons of history. I am certain that he knows well the words of American philosopher George Santayana who said, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

I pray that Americans will now unite to work together for the common good--not just for the good of all Americans but for the good of all mankind, that we will put aside our differences and strive together for a common goal, that we will rise above our pettiness and prejudice and embrace our common humanity, that we will no longer look backward to what was but look forward to what can be.

To quote from John McCain's gracious concession speech: " I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited."

A friend of mind sent me the following poem, It was sent to her by Lara Bergthold, daughter of Linda Bergthold, a contributor to the Huffington PostNPR ran this verse as a text message from a friend urging another friend to vote. It is the perfect note on which to end this dispatch.

Rosa sat
So that Martin could walk.
Martin walked
So that Barack could run
Barack ran
So that all our children could fly.

And to that I say AMEN!

---Penne J. Laubenthal

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EllenRose says...

Amen and Amen!

Crowtracks says...

I too fell in love with Obama when he spoke at the Dem Convention 4 years ago. He has inspired me and made me proud of my country for the first time in a long time. Michael Farrow

JuliBoo says...

Now that's what I'm talking about! Thanks for saying it all.

michaelbuffalo says...

Simply brilliant writing Penne. And I could not agree more! Amen! Like Peggy says, keep up the good work, and give my best to Peggy and Billy C.

pegfarlow says...

and I don't know where to start... you described every emotion I experienced this week...keep up the good work!

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