I was about to be a senior in high school that summer, with my family on vacation in Provincetown, MA, at the tip of Cape Cod. All I really wanted to do was find Edna St. Vincent Millay's summer hangout and the theater used by Eugene O'Neill and the Provincetown Players. Those were gone; instead, I tripped over a future that quickly ended my quest for the past.
Walking by a restaurant, we passed a TV sitting on the sidewalk, on a milk crate so everyone could watch. On the air: the March on Washington and the speech by Dr. Martin Luther King. I was transfixed. Living in a little town outside Pittsburgh, I hadn't really paid much attention. Until that moment. It was August 28, 1963, and it launched the next phase of my life. As I watched, I knew that I belonged there - where there was purpose - in the middle of history. It was a profound thing to listen to this man, to see the sea of people around him, watch the individual interviews, hear the music. When people wonder how we became a generation of activists, I know that this was one of the moments that drove us forward, if we weren't there already.
How beautiful then that EXACTLY 45 years later, Barack Obama will accept the nomination of his party to be the Democratic candidate for President of the United States. I heard Rep. John Lewis, so badly beaten in the 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, tell an interviewer that he wasn't sure he could make it through his own speech -- that if anyone had told him that 45 years after that Selma march he'd watch an African-American man accept the presidential nomination, he would have told them they were crazy. Obama adviser and friend Valerie Jarrett, describing what it would mean to her parents in an interview with our own Erin Kotckei Vest, struggled to contain her own tears. This is important.
And not just to African Americans. Many people my age spent years
working for civil rights while at home, in college, and out in the
world. Three civil rights workers our age, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney,
two white and one black, were murdered by racists in Mississippi.
Dozens our age, white and black, were beaten, arrested and terrorized
on Freedom Rides.
Now the Democratic Party will be headed by an African-American man who was a tiny child when John Lewis faced police beatings on that bridge.
Now a black presidential nominee and a white VP nominee can hug -
and hug one another's wives, on a public platform and evoke no
comment. And there will be no comment because it's no big
deal. It brought me to tears though - because I can remember when it
would have been a VERY big deal indeed.
Our country has changed, and grown, since that day I stood, thrilled, in Provincetown. Younger Americans have grown up in or in neighborhoods that include biracial households, are more and more "post-racial" and expect the same attitudes in their leaders.
Think about it. We've been in such a feverish day-to-day battle that we've forgotten what an amazing thing this is. I'm accused of being romantic, idealistic, optimistic - all those "ics" but it's pretty tough to argue with this: this is a very special moment in our history. (And yes, I know we still have so so much to do - I'm hopeful, not a moron.) But if America is as ready as the Democratic party, we are on a path toward a different country and, as census reports demonstrate, not a moment too soon.
Remember that line of Dr. King's: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Could it be that parts of that dream may actually now have the potential to come true? If we can get this far, perhaps we're ready to go the rest of the way.