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President Obama Stands on the Shoulders of 50 Years of History


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By Marc H. Morial | February 1, 2013

– “You can kill a man, butyou can’t kill an idea.” To Be Equal   WhenPresident Obama takes the oath of office on Monday, he will be surrounded by anextraordinary legacy of 50-year civil rights milestones that helped makepossible his second inauguration. It is fitting that the inaugural invocationwill be delivered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol by Myrlie Evers-Williams,the widow of civil rights hero, Medgar Evers. After years of risking his lifeto end discrimination against black Mississippians, Evers was felled by anassassin’s bullet in the driveway of his home 50 years ago on June 12, 1963. Whetherserving his country as a soldier in World War II, or leading the fight todesegregate the University of Mississippi, or working to end Jim Crow as thestate’s first NAACP field director, Medgar Evers was a fearless, peacefulwarrior who paved the way for President Obama and countless others who havebeen inspired by his example. {{more}} An assassin cut short his life in 1963, butMyrlie Evers-Williams went on to devote her life, as an NAACP leader and civilrights activist, to the ideas he fought and died for. Medgar Evers, ironicallywas killed on June 12th, just hours after President John F. Kennedy delivered anationally televised speech in support of civil rights. President Kennedy,himself, was assassinated only five months later, 50 years ago, on November 22,1963. President Obama will take the oath of office holding a bible belonging toanother champion of civil rights and American democracy – Dr. Martin LutherKing, Jr. Fifty years ago, on August 28, 1963, Dr. King inspired America andthe entire world with his “I Have a Dream Speech” delivered at the LincolnMemorial in front of more than 250,000 people during the historic 1963 March onWashington for Jobs and Freedom. The March was organized by Dr. King with helpfrom the National Urban League’s Whitney M. Young, along with A. PhilipRandolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, James Farmer of theCongress of Racial Equality, John Lewis of the Southern Non-ViolentCoordinating Committee, and Roy Wilkins of the NAACP. TheMarch on Washington was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Finally, President Obama will be sworn-in 50 years after one of the mosthorrific events of the civil rights era, the 1963 bombing of Birmingham,Alabama’s 16th Street Baptist Church, which resulted in the deaths of fourlittle black girls – Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley,all 14 years old, and 11-year-old Denise McNair. The Birmingham church bombing galvanizedthe conscience of the nation and led many whites to denounce racism and itsbrutal consequences. Those four young black girls did not die in vain. As Dr.King said in his eulogy, their deaths, “…say to each of us, black and whitealike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we mustbe concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the wayof life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to usthat we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of theAmerican dream.” Fifty years later, America’s first black President prepares for his secondinauguration.