Martin Luther King Jr. visited Goshen College in 1960, calling the campus and community to join his nonviolent crusade against racial injustice.Fifty-three years later, our first African-American president gave his second Inaugural Address to the nation on the very holiday that honors MLK’s life.
I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty cool.
Standing before hundreds of thousands of spectators gathered at the Capitol building and millions watching on national television, Obama took the oath of office on a Bible belonging to the slain civil rights hero. His speech invoked the ideals of MLK—equality, freedom, justice—as he laid out a progressive vision of advancing gay rights, equal pay for women and greater tolerance for illegal immigrants.
In one of the speech’s more memorable moments, Obama became the first president to mention the word “gay” in an inaugural address, equating the push for gay marriage to the civil rights and feminist movements of the 60s and 70s. Said Obama:
“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
Those historic words blew up my Facebook news-feed Monday afternoon, and for good reason. The gay rights movement is the civil rights movement of our generation — I’m glad our leaders are beginning to address it as such. How fitting, then, that Obama’s speech should fall on MLK Day, a day honoring a man who fought tirelessly for human rights.
This week, as we reflect on both the Inaugural Address and the words of the special guest speakers who spoke in convocation on Monday, I invite you to consider both how far we’ve come — electing an African-American president to his second term in office — and also how far we still have to go — offering full human rights to the LGBTQ community, including the right to marry.
I would like to leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Obama’s speech on Monday. It is, I think, a beautiful testament to the idea that we are not equal until we are all equal under the law.
“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.”