On Monday, January 19, America celebrated the 80th birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. He stood at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, and made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. In it he declared:
"When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will all be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!"On January 19, president-elect Barack Obama, one day before he would take the oath of office as the forty-fourth president of the United States, stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial, looked out at the huge crowd gathered on the Washington Mall, and proclaimed these words:
"What gives me hope is what I see when I look out across this mall. For in these monuments are chisled those unlikely stories that affirm our unyielding faith—a faith that anything is possible in America."Reflective and with gratitude in his voice he further stated, as he looked at the tall spire of the Washington monument rising sedately through the cold winter clouds and fog:
"Rising before us stands a monument to a man who led a small band of farmers and shopkeepers in revolution against the army of an empire, all for the sake of an idea."That idea was freedom, winning against great odds the right to self-government in a free nation. The price was phenomenal. The rewards since have been extraordinary.
The idea George Washington and his contemporaries held was that, indeed, "anything is possible in America." The same idea lay behind President Abraham Lincoln's signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Similar ideas fired the million-man march on Washington and Rev. King's "I Have a Dream Speech" in 1963.
Seeing the more-recently erected World War II monument in the Mall, Barack Obama said of it:
"(Here stands) a tribute to a generation that withstood war and depression, men and women like my grandparents who toiled on bomber assembly lines and marched across Europe to free the world from tyranny's grasp."Then, looking at the statue of the Great Emancipator, Obama paid this tribute to President Abraham Lincoln:
"Watching over the Union he saved sits the man who in so many ways made this day possible."In this week of momentous historical change and challenge, my prayer is one of remembrance and thanksgiving for my ancestors who were patriots in the American Revolution, who were willing to give their very lives for America's freedom. I recall that during our nation's bloodiest conflict, most of my ancestors were pro-Union and stood with Lincoln to hold the nation together, to bring freedom to those in bondage. During World War I and World War II, my kinsmen fought on foreign soil and also labored diligently on the home front to do what they could. And through all of these struggles, they held onto dreams, one of the main ones being "anything is possible in America."
This appeal rang out:
"Remember their struggles. Remember the thread that binds us together in common effort, that runs through every memorial on this Mall. (All offer a lesson) that there is no obstacle that can stand in the way of millions of voices calling for change."
But my prayers today will be more than thanksgiving for past achievements. I will earnestly pray for leadership for the new president and his cabinet, for vision, purpose and guidance for "one nation under God." God's smile on America will come only if we as citizens recognize His lordship. Personal and selfish motives are anathema. Only sacrifice and service should be at the heart of what can be wrought in America.
The words of the 44th president of the United States are soon to be uttered in his address as I send this column by e-mail on the day of his inauguration. We will pinpoint gems of wisdom from what he says and historians will preserve his speech for generations to come. It will give school children hope for what they can become in America. It will remind senior citizens of their unparalleled heritage.
We pray that all citizens will be renewed in their faith. Lying at the heart of the dream are responsibility and cooperation. These are inherent to the dream that "anything is possible in America."
c 2009 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Jan. 22, 2009 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.