Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Today We Begin a New Era. . .
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As I sit watching the Inauguration of Barak Obama,can't help but to think how much our country has changed in 48 years--48 years ago John Fitzgerald Kennedy became our first Roman Catholic President....
My Mother always reminded me of JFK's Inauguration. I happen to have been born during that historic inauguration, and I can't help but to think what that inauguration mean to my Mother (she was Roman Catholic.)
Because the Inauguration of Barak Obama means so much to me...
Some might wonder why--as I'm not African-American. But the thing is, growing up at the beginning of another New Era, I saw the changes in both the law of the land and in social attitudes that helped to bring about the election of Barak Obama....
This morning, one of the broadcasters reminded all of us that, in 1961, when Obama was born, his parents would not have been able to marry in many of the United States. It would have been called "miscegenation."
Along the way of my live, I had a number of friends who were "bi-racial" like Obama, and who went thru similar struggles with identity that Obama went thru. And I remember how it was difficult to explain to my parents, born and raised during a time of prominence for the KKK--when cross-burnings (even on the property of Roman Catholics) and lynchings happened regularly, that is was just as much o.k. for me to be friends with them, as it became o.k., in their time, for my Southern Protestant Father to be married to my Italian Roman Catholic Mother (yes, they were, in their time, considered "bi-racial"--how odd...but true. Look it up in the history books...)
We don't talk much about what happened to Roman Catholics in the United States--how the Vatican really didn't pay the U.S. all that much mind, that R.C.'s had, in many ways, to find their own way in this country; had to endure employment discrimination and "racial" discrimination and a host of other humiliations along the way. And even the wrath of the KKK....with cross burnings and being run out of towns (as had happened to my Italian grandparents in the 1910's...)
When Kennedy became President, his rise meant a lot to the Roman Catholic community of the U.S. It meant that, finally, Catholics were part of this Protestant country. That they were equal, not another race, not Pope-worshipers who would sell the country out to the Vatican.
And the Kennedys, both John and Bobby, alongside Rev. Martin Luther King,Jr., set in motion the attitude necessary to dismantle legislation and social attitudes that barred African-Americans from freedoms that kept them from being fully citizens of the United States. They stuck themselves in the door and helped to hold it open for change of that era's Old Regime...
So, today, as we watch Barak Obama become President, we see the fruits of that era that began on January 20, 1961 come to bear. We can turn a page, and say yes, we have come a very long way. We have changed as a nation. So much so that it's no big deal for whites and blacks to be friends (as it was when I was a kid), to see a "bi-racial" couple with "mixed" babies, any more than it is to have an African-American President and a Roman Catholic Vice-President (yes, our first.)
As Bob Schieffer remarked, there is now a generation that will be able to say they never knew a country that *didn't* have an African-American President. And I'm very glad to say that I've been able to see this, the culmination of so many changes that were launched 48 years ago, happen in my lifetime.
It is a day of much hope, and grace, and looking toward the future that we have not seen in a very long time. It is an amazing day indeed.