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Maybe now we can feel better about our society

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By Steve Doyle

 

There are many of us who did not think we ever would see what happened Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

Whether we are 80 or even 8, many of us did not think we would see anyone but a white man – maybe, in a far-off dream, a woman – serve as President of the United States.

You may be heartened, energized or disgusted by the fact that Barack Obama is our president today, but the reality is there and may be faced with the awe that comes along with simply stating that fact.

Read this phrase aloud and let its impact wash over you: An African-American man is our president.

So many have said so often they didn’t dare dream this could happen. Don’t you imagine that even Obama shared that skepticism not so long ago?

On Monday at a celebration in Shelbyville of the birthday of the late Martin Luther King Jr. – and of Obama’s inauguration – the Rev. Robert Marshall said that “even 12 months ago, you didn’t believe it was going to happen.” His words were greeted with “amens” and applause.

Today it has happened. This is a reality. Amen.

But how? How did society evolve in just less than 50 years from one that excluded blacks from the basic business of eating and drinking at the same table or sharing a seat on a bus or in a theater to embrace a man of color as its leader, the most powerful man in the free world?

There is no simple answer. There are only one-by-one examples.

You can look at history and recognize those who led the way. You have your barometers, and you know who really made a difference.

And whether or not you embraced that person, you now clearly recognize that impact and shake your head at how you saw them at their moments of greatest contribution. Some died in the process, and others have died before they saw the proverbial fruits of their labors.

But we see them and shake our heads.

Shelby County not always has been a place of comfort among the races. It was borne from a southern, agricultural society that reinforced racial divides and passed those attitudes  along for generations.

Even as relationships were improving since the 1950s, they remained uneasy, mostly because of fear.

Not so long ago, meals weren’t typically shared other than at school or a public event. Workers at your farm may have had to drink from a separate water jug than yours. Classmates and teammates of color may have kept to themselves for nothing more than comfort.

Not so long ago, black customers could go to a movie, but they had to sit separately, generally in the balcony like so many gallery patrons in “To Kill A Mockingbird.” They could go to public parks, but they couldn’t take a dip in the public pool.

Not so long ago, epithets rolled freely and unashamedly off your tongue as routine and even acceptable parts of your daily vocabulary.

Not so long ago, you decried the opposing team’s best player, especially if he were a different color than you, and you may have drawn your loyalties for UK and U of L along those lines.

Not so long ago, a man with white skin didn’t feel comfortable driving north of Washington Street into Martinsville and leaving his car parked along the street.

Not so long ago, our churches had white faces in one set of pews and black faces in another, though all professed to worship the same God and embrace the universal love professed in the Bible.

Not so long ago, a family might not have been able to discuss such relationships because of hatred and fear and the respect given to those who harbored  those emotions,  disagreement not allowed.

Not so long ago, you quietly called a person of color your friend for fear of ostracizing someone else, or you gasped to see an interracial couple showing affection for one another.

And, yes, those things all still happen, those attitudes are still in place. Thankfully, they no longer are close to the majority.

This presidential campaign has underscored a new unity for us. Not only because of Obama, but it’s as if we all just felt a rush of relief that we could openly embrace such glorious change and not feel guilty about it.

We could root for a new approach, a new figurehead and a new future and not fear that it may lead to a place of discomfort and fear.

The scripture reading at Monday’s MLK celebration was the story from Genesis about Joseph and his ability to see the future. The passage ended with the statement of Joseph:   “Behold, a dreamer cometh”

Today, a man who dared to dream has brought to reality the very real dreams of many who went before him – and a wonderful new opportunity for all of us.