Monday, January 19, 2009

Free at Last!

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What a Week! Martin Luther King, Jr. Day + Barack Obama Inauguration

I thought I'd have some fun with the idea of the advance of civilization. It is amazing how far our social progress has advanced, and how far our English skills have slipped.

Please forgive my momentary bit of humor.

I can barely contain my joy at the prospect of the first black U.S. President. It is an event centuries in the making. Millions have marched, suffered, and died so that we might see this day come to pass.
  • 233 years since July 4, 1776, when Thomas Jefferson asserted “all men are created equal.” Indeed, the more full quote is, “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, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

  • 145 years since September 22, 1863, the day President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which stated, “all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.”

  • 143 years since the December 6, 1865 adoption of the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which upheld Lincoln’s executive order via legislation which formally abolished slavery in the nation, stating, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

  • 140 years since the July 9, 1868 ratification of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, granting citizenship to all persons born within the United States (regardless of race), “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

  • 138 years since the ratification of the 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution on February 3, 1870, which granted Congress the right to uphold the voting rights of all citizens declaring “the rights of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

  • 128 years since the March 1, 1880 decision of Strauder v. West Virginia, in which the U.S. Supreme Court, by a vote of 7-to-2, determined that state laws excluding black persons from juries solely on the basis of their color was unconstitutional, violating the 14th Amendment, desiring “to assure to the colored race the enjoyment of all the civil rights that under the law are enjoyed by white persons, and to give to that race the protection of the general government, in that enjoyment, whenever it should be denied by the States.”

  • 99 years since the February 12, 1909 formation of the Niagara Movement, which led to the 1911 foundation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), whose purpose is to “Ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.”

  • 54 years since the May 17, 1954 issuance of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the landmark ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court which declared the de jure segregation of schools based on color unconstitutional.

  • 45 years since the August 28, 1963 speech of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. before the Lincoln Memorial, in which he declared, “I Have a Dream!
There have been far too many events which have led to this present moment than one can account. Treat the above as indicative of the scope of the history involving the march towards racial equality, and not its depth. Likewise, do not confuse the progress we have made as the final triumph in the march to judge persons based on the content of their character, and not on the color of their skin.

Even as we prepare to inaugurate Barack H. Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America, there are millions of persons around the nation beholden to racial hatred and xenophobia. A curious article and survey conducted by CNN in December 2006 highlights the problem: we may have turned a blind eye to bias in ourselves. Up to 80 of Americans may harbor racist tendencies that even they would not recognize in themselves, as per a study from the University of Connecticut, while only about 12-13% of Americans personally admitted they had racial biases.

Yet we also have no dearth of quite unapologetic, overt racism either. The Southern Poverty Law Center counts 888 active racial hate groups across the United States. In “liberal” California alone, there are no less than 80 such groups.

If you are interested in taking action, go to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and join your voice to their pluralist, tolerance-engendering countermovement, Stand Strong.

It’s now Inauguration Day on the east coast. Sleep well, Mr. Obama. The hardest work of your political career starts tomorrow!


  1. Hi Pete, one more important decision-Loving vs. VA, on interracial marriage. There is more information on this huge civil rights decision here:


  2. Awesome point, Theresa! I'll add it later today to the list. Amazing it was only June 12, 1967 when it was decided.