January 22, 2021
Watching President Biden’s Inauguration, I was struck by how the complexion of the group on the dais has changed in my lifetime. When Dwight Eisenhower took the oath in 1953, Margaret Chase Smith of Maine was the only woman in the Senate. The cabinet members were all White males, as were the justices of the Supreme Court.
Four years later, in a first, Marion Anderson, the Black opera singer barred by the DAR from singing at Constitution Hall because of her race, sang the National Anthem at Ike’s second inauguration.
The next “firsts” took longer to come. In 1966, Edward Brooke of Massachusetts became the first Black senator since Reconstruction, and in 1967, Thurgood Marshall joined the Supreme Court. It was not until until 1981 that Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman on the Court, and 2009 that Sonia Sotomayor become the first Hispanic Justice.
So, looking at the faces on the dais and the photos of the President’s cabinet nominees this week, I was encouraged, but also keenly aware of how many “firsts” we are still checking off. “Firsts” are important milestones, but only if they are followed by seconds and thirds and so on, until we get to the point where the wonderful and powerful diversity of our country is reflected in our leadership, both public and private.
As the remarkable young poet Amanda Gorman challenged us, there is much work to be done, for “…being American is more than a pride we inherit; it’s the past we step into and how we repair it.”
Be safe, friends,
January 15, 2021
I have thought a lot about the power of words recently. Words can paint pictures, and bring smiles, laughter, or tears. Words can heal or hurt, they can inspire or incite. Whether used intentionally or carelessly, they have impact.
A really good author or orator can elevate prose to poetry and make the words even more powerful. This is true of both the written and spoken word, but I think the spoken word has more immediate impact.
Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was only 271 words and took just two minutes to deliver (it was an afterthought to the main speech of the day), but to read it is to read powerful poetry.
John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech, with passages like, “Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans,” and “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,” inspired my generation.
Both were powerful, inspirational speeches. But the most powerful speech I have ever heard was delivered by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. on August 28, 1963. King spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to over 250,000 peacefully assembled civil rights supporters and to millions more by live television.
Delivered with the cadence and rhythm he had polished in the pulpit, King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was among the most important in our nation’s history. It concluded with these words:
“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 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!’”
I listened to that speech live, and Dr. King’s words inspire me still. You can watch it on YouTube, and you should on this particular weekend.
Be safe, friends,
January 8, 2021
As a lifelong student of history, and of American history in particular, I am appalled, but not surprised. Our social and political fabric has been slowly, and then not so slowly, fraying over the past several decades. What happened this week was a long time in building.
What sort of country will our children inherit if Americans continue on this path? If we continue to demonize the “other” and to shout rather than listening to our fellow citizens? If we define ourselves by our differences instead of looking for common ground?
We must find a way to reweave the fabric. That work has to happen in every community and in every school. The task is long term, and never ending. Building respect and community is an absolute necessity if we are to be the great nation we aspire to be: one where every American is valued for what they contribute to our story.
This work has a mission statement. It is on the Great Seal of the United States: E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.