I recently attended a lecture at the Schomburg Center concerning Dr. King’s Forgotten Manifesto (New York Times, May 16, 2012), in which he argues for an executive order that would ban segregation in the same way the Emancipation Proclamation outlawed slavery. Civil Rights historian David Blight and Schomburg director Khalil Gibran Muhammad animatedly discussed the origins of this writing, as well as Dr. King’s dogged determination to hold President John F. Kennedy accountable to all Americans, declaring, “The time has come, Mr. President, to let those dawn-like rays of freedom, first glimpsed in 1863, fill the heavens with the noonday sunlight of complete human dignity.” Mr. Blight read excerpts of this impassioned, lyrical letter, which cited hundreds of legal precedents, including the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation. I had not known of this manifesto prior to the lecture; I was riveted.
Just three weeks ago, I rang in the new year by worshipping at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. It was not lost on me or my fellow Abyssinians the profound symbolism of this particular Watch Night service, marking the 150 year anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation taking effect. The proclamation became a symbol of hope for nearly 4 million slaves. Some historians and scholars view the proclamation to be one of the most important documents in our country’s history. And today, fifty years after Dr. King’s iconic – and, perhaps, prophetic – “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered in Washington, D.C., I watch with immeasurable pride as Barack Obama is sworn into office for a second time as POTUS. No, all is not right with the world, and there are countless examples of injustice, indignities and atrocities worldwide happening every minute of every day. Tonight, however, for a few moments, I just felt like acknowledging – and celebrating – what is truly an American achievement. We shall indeed overcome someday.