The following is an excerpt from CNN’s Wolf Blitzer interviewing Former Gen. Colin Powell, who commemorated the inauguration of Barack Obama, our 44th President.
BLITZER: Did you ever think, Gen. Powell, that you would be alive to witness this day?
POWELL: I didn’t know if I would or I would not. I knew the day would come eventually. I watched over the last 50 years, the 50 years of my adult life, as my country went from Jim Crow and discrimination and segregation, and I couldn’t get a hamburger in a hamburger joint in the South. And slowly but surely, things changed, things improved, America looked at itself with Dr. Martin Luther King holding the mirror up for us to look at ourselves. And we said, this is not who we should be or what we should be. This is not the inspiration to the world that we present ourselves as.
And so, slowly but surely, we changed. And then, in recent years, more rapidly, to the point where a man of enormous skill, enormous capability was elected president of the United States, and not just because he is black, but it’s a sign of our society and our democratic system that he is black and he made it. A lot of people said, white folks will go into the booth, but they wouldn’t pull the lever for him, no matter what they said outside. Well, they did. And he ran a brilliant campaign, an organized campaign, and it was a very successful campaign.
I had a flashback to a lively discussion I had with a few public safety officers when I was a “safety agent” in college. I just remember how everyone was still annoyed at the first election of George W. Bush. We witnessed the apparent travesty unfold, but wondered who were the viable candidates at the time other than Bush in 2000. Al Gore? John McCain? Maybe. Then, someone brought Colin Powell’s name up, and hysteria ensued!
“You mean to tell me that this country’s not racist when COLIN POWELL, a DEDICATED WAR HERO, would get shot, SHOT!, if he even contemplated running! He’s got as many credentials as anyone we’ve ever seen, but even liberals won’t elect him because they’re afraid he’s gonna get assassinated as soon as he takes his hand off the Bible!”
I’d never seen this White lady, bespectacled and in uniform, a former Armed Forces soldier herself, get so animated. Moments like that kicked some of my own theories about voting blocks in the teeth. Maybe Tupac was finally wrong: we were ready for a Black president. Maybe, as the Onion mentioned, it had gotten so bad that we were desperate enough to have a Black president who on the one end embodies our hopes and changes but also was such a clean slate that we could transfix our own views onto him.
But more importantly, Barack Obama’s ascendancy came as a result of time.
So yesterday, after watching the inauguration with my students, I immediately went into a few remarks (if anyone’s down for the soaring allegory, it’s this writer):
Today, ladies and gentlemen, is a result of a long series of events. Barack Obama didn’t just get to be President of the United States just because of who he is. Just the way that Civil Rights leaders paved the way for you all to be sitting here with the same calculators, the same books, in the same seats that anyone else can sit in, and have the privileges you do, in a time when they got arrested just for sitting in front of a bus or hosed because they wanted to walk into the same diner that others did, THAT’S the privilege.
So when people like me see that, and we get a little emotional, understand that we think about kids like you every night, and how events like the one you saw today only mean that now you get a chance to do what you want to do. You now have to carry that message of hope and change into the future generation. It’s up to you now.
Success is not an event; it’s a process. And the process is far from over.
Jose, who wonders if 80% of blacks really believe Obama sealed up MLK’s dream …