Obama’s and Martin Luther King’s stories will merge Monday

President will take the oath on a Bible that King used, as well as on one that Abraham Lincoln used.
Wire
Jan 17, 2013

 

When President Barack Obama takes the oath of office Monday on the national holiday celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and vision, the links between the two men will be easy to discern.

Both battled enormous odds to build historic multi-ethnic, multi-racial coalitions, one to advance the cause of civil rights, the other to win the nation’s highest office. Both won the Nobel Peace Price. Both could use soaring rhetoric to inspire millions. Both also had to overcome critics who accused them of socialist or communist sympathies, as well as black activists who maintained that they weren’t strong advocates for African-Americans.

Obama has long encouraged the ties between King and himself. He spoke at the civil rights icon’s Atlanta church on Jan. 20, 2008, a year before his first inauguration. He accepted the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 on the anniversary of King’s Aug. 28, 1963, “I Have a Dream” speech. He’ll take the oath Monday on a Bible that King used, as well as on one that Abraham Lincoln used.

“What King and Obama have in common is that both are articulate voices, voices being heard at a time when people were listening and wanted to listen,” said Sam Fulwood, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research center.

The two men, of course, were also different, largely because of their times.

“Making America better in 1968 is different than making America better in 2013. I think they take different paths, but their goal is to use their strengths to help America be America,” said Lonnie Bunch, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

National politics wasn’t an option for King. He was born in 1929 and came of age in a South where the simple act of voting was at best difficult and often impossible for blacks, effectively disenfranchising them in one-fourth of the country.

Even elsewhere, voters showed almost no inclination to elect a black person to any statewide office. It wasn’t until 1966 that Sen. Edward Brooke of Massachusetts became the first black to be elected to the Senate in 85 years. Not until 1989 did Virginia’s Douglas Wilder become the first black person elected governor of a state.

Obama has benefited from a political structure that offers unbridled opportunity. He was born in 1961, soon after stronger voting-rights laws began empowering blacks and making them an important political force.

Through the years, so-called “race issues” have been less prominent, allowing black politicians to identify more closely with universal issues such as health care or the economy.

“Obama had financial advantages and the support of the Democratic Party,” said Kareem Crayton, an associate professor of law at the University of North Carolina Law School. “King was trying to dismantle a hundred years of exclusion, in violation of federal law and the courts.”Obama, who as a young community organizer was frustrated that he couldn’t change an ingrained political system, learned to be an insider working from outside the black community. Many black leaders in early 2008 preferred Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee.

King was the opposite, drawing his political strength from the black population in the heart of the segregated South, a place where the church was often the heart of the political community.

“King’s world was so shaped by religion and the American South versus Obama’s world, which is shaped by fundamentally different things,” Bunch said.

The bond between the two men, though, has at its core roots that are timeless, allowing a torch to be passed from one generation’s most prominent black American to another.

“It’s about leadership that comes from community support,” Bunch said. “King’s a Southerner coming out of a rigidly segregated environment but also coming out of a strong black middle class and nuclear family.”

Obama, reaping the benefits of the post-civil rights generation, “is able to both be deeply embedded in his community but to be beyond his community,” Bunch explained.

King and Obama shared an important personal trait that allowed them to flourish: Both knew how to reach out and become acceptable to key elements of the white community so they could build multi-racial coalitions to effect change. They also had to appeal to black constituencies while not offending whites.

Obama’s biggest challenge came in March 2008, during a crucial phase of his bid to win the Democratic nomination. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s pastor, came under fire for incendiary comments in his sermons and writings. Obama quickly distanced himself from Wright.

“What’s important to realize is for Obama, he really has claimed his Americanism,” Bunch said. “He’s really made sure that based on who he is and his vision, it’s for a broader America. ... He’s made sure that he simply isn’t seen as a one-issue president. That’s the tension and the balance that he has to do.”

Some in the black community also have criticized Obama and King: Obama as not paying enough attention to their needs, King as not being aggressive enough.

As they became better known, King and Obama faced a new challenge: broadening and implementing their agendas. While both sparked unusual hope, they found that once they got beyond their signature issues — health care and reviving the economy for Obama, civil rights for King — things got tougher.

King was criticized as embracing the anti-Vietnam War movement with too much vigor. He tried to tie his war criticism to his efforts to curb poverty, and he explained the link in a 1967 speech at New York City’s Riverside Church.

“I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted,” King explained. “I speak for the poor of America, who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam.”

King, though, wouldn’t be a major player in Vietnam protests. His post-civil rights-era goals “were things he was never able to accomplish,” Crayton said.

As Obama tries to implement his second-term agenda, he too is reaching out, embracing an overhaul of the nation’s immigration system and gun control. Whether he can mobilize support, Crayton said, “remains an unanswered question.”

———

By William Douglas and David Lightman - McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

©2013 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Comments

propman

Obam you fail when people actually judge you by the content of your charactor, You have riden on the color of your skin.

mikeylikesit's picture
mikeylikesit

amen!

jack langhals

At least King did some good for someone !

Windy

Obie got the Nobel Peace Prize . . . for WHAT?

E.Cartman

You sir are no MLK......you are just an egomaniac!

black crowe

wouldn't make a pimple on Dr. King's buttocks

blackek

These are some racist comments about the mocha Jesus!

Contango

Mr. Obama demagogues and uses race as a political divider; MLK was a social uniter.

One example: He helped fuel racial hatred regarding the Trayvon Martin shooting.

"If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," - Mr. Obama

(What the (bleep) does that even mean?)

I fail to see the similarities. IMO, he's closer to a "sanitized" Louis Farrakhan.

Let the Obama sheeple continue swooning in their cult of personality.

History is a pendulum.

arnmcrmn

I just cannot believe people are trying to compare Obie with MLK, or even putting Obie's face on Mount Rushmore! Who are the idiots that think of these things.

Tell me one SOLID BIG POSITIVE THING, this man has done for this country on his own?

Brock Lee

he half black lol

Brainiac2007

Obama does not deserve one bit of recognition for anything, except fooling the American people. He became president for a country he has no use for, is doing his best to destroy us and in four years will be leaving presidency and this country that he is working so hard to destroy will be paying him big money for the rest of his life.....Kiss off Obama!

Contango

Martin Luther King, Jr. 1967:

"Freedom is still the bonus we receive for knowing the truth. 'Ye shall know the truth,' says Jesus, 'and the truth shall set you free.'"

2013:

"The Barack" shall set you free.

http://www.informationclearingho...

arnmcrmn

MLK was about equality, about getting up off your butt and doing something with yourself. He was about prosperity but not on the backs of another man. As the bible states: A man shouldn't depend on someone else or their government to take care of themselves and their family, a REAL MAN works, takes care of his family and his belongings. Obie is everything anti of the bible and this man.

44846GWP

Sour grapes people? lol! Too bad, try again in 2016.

Contango

So Obama sheeple believe that under King Obama that the 1st Amendment is dead?

"Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

starryeyes83

MLK cheated on his wife so what does that make him? A hypocrit.

arnmcrmn

and Bill Clinton cheated on his wife in the WHITE HOUSE and lied to the entire nation on TV, and people still praise him. Time to start holding our leaders to higher standards......but that will never happen.

starryeyes83

I agree with you ( first time for everything) .. political, social and moral leaders.