20 January 2009

A Good Beginning

At my lab today they broadcast the inauguration of Barack Obama, the 44th American to become President of the United States, but the very first African American. Afterward they marked the lab's annual celebration of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday with a panel discussion on the question of whether Dr. King's dream that people would be judged "not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character" had been achieved.

If the panelists hadn't said it, I would have. We have been forcefully reminded these past few weeks by the killing of Oscar Grant that it has not been achieved. Not fully, not yet. But today a huge stride has been made toward achieving that dream.

I remember another stride, taken 45 years ago.

In 1963, I heard that the middle-aged woman who was to be my fourth grade teacher told her class in our segregated, all-white school that they should "never let a colored child be your friend." I was in her class when the school was desegregated in 1964. As far as I could tell, she never let her prejudice show to her new students, white or black. At the end of the academic year, as was her longstanding custom, she kissed each and every one of her students on the forehead as they left her classroom for the last time. That year was a big step for her, and for all of us fourth-graders. Those purple lipstick marks on those dark foreheads could have been little prophecies that this day would surely come.

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