A well-known phrase that opens a speech delivered on August 28, 1963 from one famously historic African American segues into a phrase spoken from another, now historically famous African American.
The 57th Presidential Inauguration. How poignant that our first African American President was inaugurated for his second term this past Monday, January 21, 2013, on the National Holiday recognizing the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of history’s most prominent and well-loved Civil Rights leaders.
Presidents choose the Bibles they use when they give their Presidential oaths; and, Barack Obama was no different except in that he chose to use two Bibles – one from each of the men in history whom he respects the most: President Abraham Lincoln, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The President opened his inaugural speech by saying that every time we inaugurate a new president, “we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional -- what makes us American -- is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” (whitehouse.gov)
The President went on to say that in our time we go on a “never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time.” “We have always understood that when times change, so must we.” “Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people.”
“My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together…. For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America’s prosperity must rest on the broad shoulders of a rising middle class.”
President Obama said that as Americans, we are being “true to our creed when a little girl who is born into the bleakest poverty knows that she will have an equal chance of rising up and doing well in life because she is born an American, that she is born free, and that she will have an equal opportunity to do well in her life -- not just in the eyes of God, but also in our eyes.”
ABC News reports that President Obama cites that "Times are Changing" in more ways than this. They claim that he used his second inaugural speech to make an “audacious claim" and that the coalition who elected him are "younger, more diverse, more non-native, and more socially liberal” than at any other time in history. They went on to say that President Obama spoke “directly to, and for them” and ABC further claimed that this is a new form of “American Progressivism – unleashed.”
President Obama is first in another big way -- he is the first American President to address the gay community in his inaugural speech. ABC News says that “he was weaving the new tapestry of America as he sees it,” and goes on to say that "for the first time in an inaugural address the President explicitly mentions gay rights, calling for marriage equality."
The President said “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are to truly created equal, then surely the love that we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
President Obama said that it is our generation’s task to carry on what our pioneers began. “We, the People, declare today that the most evident of truths, that all of us are created equal, is the star that guides us still just as it guided our forbearers through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall….
“Our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and our daughters can earn a living that is equal to their efforts.
“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity.
"Our journey will not be complete until bright young students and engineers are welcomed into our workforce instead of expelled from our country” and, “until all of our children know they are cared for and cherished, and always safe from harm."
“That is our generation’s task.”
“My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction. And we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service. But the words I spoke today are not so different from the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up for duty or an immigrant realizes her dream. My oath is not so different from the pledge we all make to the flag that waves above and that fills our hearts with pride.” (whitehouse.gov).
“They are the words of citizens, and of our greatest hope.”
“Let us, each of us, now embrace with solemn duty and awesome joy what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom." (whitehouse.gov).
“Let us answer the call of history and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.”
As he was leaving the podium, shaking hands and accepting congratulations, President Obama turned to face the panorama of people who came to witness the inauguration, and said “I want to take a look one more time. I’m not going to see this again.”
NOTE: Any quotes not cited in text were transcribed by me from the live speech.
To watch the inaugural speech in its entirety, go to YouTube: http://youtu.be/zncqb-n3zMo
For a complete transcript visit the White House website: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/01/21/inaugural-address-president-barack-obama
Sources for more information and history of Martin Luther King, Jr., or for the transcript of his I have a Dream speech: