Between Sunday’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial and Monday being MLK Jr. Day, I became increasingly uncomfortable with the media and celebrity personalities drawing strong Lincoln-King-Obama parallels. While it is nearly impossible to overstate the significance of Obama’s inauguration, it is, indeed, possible to do so when such statements equate Obama’s inauguration with the end of the struggle for civil rights.

It was at Sunday’s concert that it first hit me hard. Bono was doing his Bono thing, prancing around the stage, slow-motion pumping his fist and preparing to sing his song, Pride, about Martin Luther King Jr. Talking about King’s “dream,” Bono said, “On Tuesday, that dream comes to pass.” Most of the crowd cheered. I cringed.

Sunday morning at Busboy’s and Poets on a GRITtv panel, I heard one of the speakers say something like: “This is what we all struggled for. This moment validates our work for so long.” While the people honored on this wall were certainly “shouting in heaven,” I doubt they thought their work complete.

And Monday afternoon on the Mall, while Cheryl and I were talking to 30 million people on the BBC’s World Have Your Say program, the host found three Black people who were so ecstatic about Obama that when asked if expectations were too high, they exclaimed, “No! Everything’s gonna be great now. We won!” I wanted to cut their mic.

Each of these statements leaves a tight, uncomfortable feeling in me because such sentiments, while based in hope, are practically speaking, dangerous. King’s “dream” was never about the arrival of one man to a position of power, nor was the work of thousands of activists over decades in the name of civil rights. Obama’s inauguration is a momentous occasion and an extremely positive step, but as I advised him on CNN, neither he nor his supporters should break out the Mission Accomplished banner declaring the End Of Racism, not while the systemic criminal justice, economic and health disparities remain alive and unwell in this country.

It was with these feelings at the forefront of my consciousness that I met Fred Gray in the CNN Express Bus on Monday. Gray’s quick Wikipedia background:

Gray was a lawyer in Alabama during the civil rights movement [1]. He came to prominence working with Martin Luther King, Jr., E.D. Nixon, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Improvement Association during the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 (Browder v. Gale). Other notable cases include: Gomillion v. Lightfoot (redistricting of Tuskegee, ultimately affording political power to blacks in that city), Williams v. Wallace (protected Selma to Montgomery marchers), and Lee v. Macon (desegregation of all state public schools). He also represented plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study (Pollard v. U.S.).

He appeared with Soledad moments after I did, and I stuck around to get his take on equating Obama with the fulfillment of the movement:

Update Saturday 2:40pm

Thanks to Nate Wesley for pointing me to this illdoctrine video from Jan 20. There’s something nice about following up Fred Gray’s video with this one from another generation:

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