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Guest column: King’s legacy now hands baton to Obama

POSTED: January 19, 2009 1:00 a.m.

Weeks before the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. begins, I pull out many of his speeches to reflect on the legacy of an incredible dreamer. This routine is a ritual for me. His passion and pain are powerful as his words penetrate my soul.

Dr. King lived and died in one of the most chaotic periods in our nation's history. His journey was a people's movement against racism, classism and militarism. His fight against injustice was propelled by a deeply rooted thirst for equality, and a hunger for black people and poor people to be treated with dignity and respect.

As I listen to his sermons, I think about life growing up here in Gainesville, about times fraught with racial violence, intimidation, police abuse of power, employment and housing discrimination, environmental injustice, school desegregation and the struggle for voting rights. For decades, these struggles were tempered by acts of kindness from people of goodwill who became unsung heroes for change.

Conditions in this country and in our community, at that time did not support King's vision for the kind of America he knew was possible. Yet, his hope for America inspired people to believe beyond what they could immediately see.

Then I thought about the King Day March today, sponsored by the Newtown Florist Club, and how significant this day will be. For nearly four decades, men, women and children of different races and faiths have marched to keep a dream alive that often seemed impossible. The march this time will be a liberating experience that we will never witness again. And at the conclusion of the program, when we lock hands together to sing "We Shall Overcome," the words to this powerful freedom song will usher in the dawning of a new day. At that moment, Dr. King's life's work will symbolically represent the passing of the baton of moral and visionary leadership to President-elect Barack Obama.

On Tuesday, as Obama rises to take the oath of office as the 44th president of the United States, Dr. King's words will resonate like a mighty rushing wind around the White House grounds. If we are still, no matter where we are in America, we may be able to hear Dr. King say, "I am happy to join you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation."

Then, I imagine that President Obama will say, "I'm asking you not just to believe in my ability to bring about real change in Washington. ... I am asking you to believe in yours."

It is from this moment forward that a new era in American civil rights will begin. This time, it is my prayer that as a nation of people, we will stand together in solidarity to work toward a new community organizing paradigm called common justice.

Common justice brings people together from all walks of life to work for one purpose: to strengthen and stabilize our nation's economy.

The Rev. Rose Johnson Mackey of Gainesville is co-pastor of Truth and Deliverance Outreach Ministries and Executive Director of the National Coalition for Burned Churches.



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