Way to Go America: Black and White

by Derrick G. Jeter

Way to go America. You did it again—you made history, and made me proud to be an American.

 

On October 16, 1901, the newly ascended President Theodore Roosevelt, dined with Booker T. Washington, the black orator and educator, in the White House. Roosevelt was damned by the Southern press. The Memphis Scimitar excoriated the President.

 

The most damnable outrage which has ever been perpetrated by any citizen of the United States was committed yesterday by the President, when he invited a n— to dine with him at the White House. It would not be worth more than a passing notice if Theodore Roosevelt had sat down to dinner in his own home with a Pullman car porter, but Roosevelt the individual and Roosevelt the President are not to be viewed in the same light.1

 

To Roosevelt’s discredit he never dined with a black man in the White House again.

 

Operatic singer, Marian Anderson was denied access by the Daughters of the American Revolution to Constitution Hall for a concert on Easter Sunday in 1939. Appalled at such rank racism, Eleanor Roosevelt moved the concert to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. With the “Great Emancipator” looking down on her, Marian Anderson sang “My Country ’Tis of Thee” to a throng of 75,000.

 

“Let freedom ring.” Indeed.

 

Twenty-four years later, from the very same spot Marian Anderson sang those words—“Let freedom ring”—a young pastor stood and declared:

 

Let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that.

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.

 

And when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and hamlet, from every state and city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Catholics and Protestants—will be able to join hands and to sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, free at last; thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”2

 

On November 4, 2008, Senator Barack Obama became the first black man to reach the highest office in the land—the presidency of the United States of America. His election is another milestone in marking the truth that American is still “the last best hope of earth.”3 I offer him my hearty congratulations. More importantly, I offer him my prayers. For the sake of the country I pray his presidency success. Now, President-elect Obama, govern wisely.

 

There is time enough to disagree with President Obama. And I will . . . with civility and passion. But for now: Way to go America. You did it again—you made history, and made me proud to be an American.

 

1. Memphis Scimitar, October 17, 1901, quoted in Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex (New York: Random House, 2001), 54.

2. Martin Luther King Jr., “I Have a Dream,” in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. James M. Washington (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 220.

3. Abraham Lincoln, “Annual Message to Congress,” December 1, 1862, in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, vol. V, ed. Roy P. Basler (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 537.

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