Thursday, August 28, 2008

"I Thought I Had Cried All My Tears"
On this day 45 years ago, Dr. King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in DC. Not many figures in history could claim to have given an address that became so ingrained in culture that - in the course of less than a generation - it was a staple in grade school education all across the country. I first heard it in school almost 30 years ago.

It is the quintessential expression of the American ethos at its best. That's why it's so revered, and why - despite the objections of John McCain at the time (how is that judgment, again?) - Dr. King has a holiday, to remember what he stood for, and how he stood for it.

But that's not the reason for this post. It's this: 9 other great Americans gave speeches that day as part of the March on Washington in August, 1963. All of them have passed away, except one: Congressman John Lewis of Georgia. 45 years later, he will speak again, ahead of Barack Obama's acceptance speech. This morning, NPR interviewed an emotional Lewis. I almost had to pull the car over. You can read it, but I recommend clicking the link to listen and hear his voice. Besides, maybe it's because I was driving when I heard it, but I would swear their transcript gets a key statement wrong. He didn't say "But I've cried all my tears." He said, weeping and surprised, "I thought I had cried all my tears." [UPDATE: Check the comments - they fixed the transcript]

I understand there would be a political risk in assuming too much connection between King's speech and Obama's address tonight. And I was initially wary of the campaign making too much of the anniversary. But now I think it would be a mistake not to pay significant homage to that moment, and the movement that - whether some like to hear it or not - now includes Senator Obama's candidacy in its embrace. Today, I'm not inclined to pander to the bigots who - once opposed to uplifting King's legacy - now cry "presumptuous" at Obama's claim on history.

I suspect Rep. Lewis will not be alone in his surprise at the level of emotion that comes from this recognition, that in Obama the bridge connecting today to August 28, 1963 has a new and potent steadying brace on which to build. There's going to be waterworks tonight, folks. I say, let 'em flow.

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