The Emancipation Activation of President Obama
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Written by J. Dennis Robinson

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EDITOR-AT –LARGE

America has proven it can re-invent itself once again. We have elected our first president with African American roots. New Hampshire played its small part in this historic event. Now comes the real test. Will we allow President Barack Obama to be his own man? 

 

 

Now, at last, we can free ourselves 

Four score and seven years ago the Ku Klux Klan numbered 100,000 strong and dominated the state government of Indiana. Hundreds of African-Americans were killed in race riots in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Supreme Court supported "separate but equal" as the law of the land.

Twenty years later, as World War II dawned, segregation was still in force and members of the Ku Klux Klan paraded in the streets of Portsmouth, NH. Twenty years after that, in the 1960s, African Americans still could not dine in many restaurants here. Black men were denied haircuts in downtown barber shops. Black members at Pease Air Force Base were offered different off-base housing than white airmen. A Portsmouth boy was rejected as a clerk at a local grocery store because, according to the storeowner, black employees tended to encourage interracial marriage.

Rev. Jesse Jackson wept at Barack Obama’s acceptance speech on November 4, 2008, because he remembers a lifetime of racial prejudice. That prejudice will continue. Evil and ignorant people will always exist. But in ways we cannot yet understand, America has changed.

You could see the change in television pictures from across the nation. Blacks wept and whites wept. For African-Americans, I can only assume, this is one of the greatest days in our national history. The most powerful person in the world is the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from the USA. Whites wept, I know, because we are happy and relieved and proud. Our own race has finally agreed that race is irrelevant. We did not elect Barack Obama because he was a black man. We elected him because he is the best man for the job. His race was a bonus. If he turns out to be a "transformational figure", as many believe, then we win the trifecta.

When Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address in 1863 over a quarter million Americans had died in the Civil War. Almost 400,000 more would fall. It was death to a degree we cannot imagine. That war to end slavery, fought today at our current population level, would kill 6,000,000 men. And yet the war did not kill prejudice. Millions of white Americans still struggle with their fear of other races.

When Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, he "freed" only the enslaved people in the Union states. The end of the Civil War technically released the rest from bondage, but it was a technical liberation. Bondage continued. The horrors that followed emancipation were often as bad as those under slavery. The wounds were deep.

We still live within inches of our nation’s greatest mistake. Blacks still fill our prisons, attend our worst schools, live in our most dangerous neighborhoods, suffer our deepest stereotypes. The enslavement of one race by another is as old as our history. Even Yankee New Hampshire can track its connection to the slave trade back to 1645. Our very success as a seaport was intimately tied to the infamous Triangle Trade.

Lincoln, in his time, was able to proclaim the end of bondage. We now, at last, have been given the chance to finish the job, to activate that emancipation. We are not elevating a black man to the highest office in the nation. We end slavery, once and for all, when we refuse to see race in terms of status. We end prejudice when ethnicity Is irrelevant when it comes to selecting our leaders.

If President Barack Obama is the man we think he is, then history will remember him best for his accomplishments, not the color of his skin.

 

© 2008 by J. Dennis Robinson. All rights reserved.