GLENDALE — Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 speech — on Tuesday, they culminate with the swearing in of Barack Obama as the nation’s first black president.
The historic moment Tuesday on the steps of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., brings an added weight to King’s famous “I have a dream” speech and the national holiday that honors his life of civil rights activism.
As in years past, government offices are closed, school campuses are empty, but this year, where previously people may have considered the day off a leisurely break, the nation prepares to witness history and consider its implications.
“Honestly, I’ve never really thought about Martin Luther King [Jr.] Day, but this year, yeah, it’s totally different,” Jessica Carter, who is black, said Saturday while shopping at the Americana at Brand. “We got our man Obama in the White House now, so ‘the dream’ is real.”
Primed with constant network television coverage on Obama’s train stops en route to Washington, D.C., and countdown news programming on the inauguration, it seemed almost surreal for some residents that they should be preparing for a black president.
“I remember the headlines when Dr. King was assassinated,” said 83-year-old Glendale resident Ruth Johnson, who was active in grass-roots civil rights advocacy in the 1960s and ’70s. “Now, to see Barack Obama up there, it’s almost unbelievable.”
For two of Glendale’s most prominent black executives — Glendale Community College President/Supt. Audrey Levy, and Fire Chief Harold Scoggins — the impact of Obama’s election on King’s memory also was not lost.
“To think that some 30-odd years ago, Martin Luther King [Jr.] had that speech, ‘I have a dream,’” Scoggins said, “It’s incredible.”
He and his wife flew to Washington, D.C., Friday night to attend the inauguration.
“To be able to witness the only ‘first time’ an African American will be sworn in as president — it’s just so meaningful to me,” he said Saturday.
Scoggins made history last year when he became Glendale’s first black fire chief.
For Levy, the realization that Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year would precede the inauguration of a black man as president made her “proud and honored.”
“Personally, I feel amazement that the country has been able to move past some physical intonation of skin to make a decision that is, hopefully, the best one for our country,” she said.
The election served to meet King’s dream that the advancement of blacks in America would one day be based “on the content of one’s character, not their skin,” Levy added.
But even in the observance of King’s memory, the nation has traveled a slow and tepid path. While President Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, it wasn’t until 2000 that all 50 states officially observed it as a separate and distinct holiday.
And despite the electric atmosphere in the nation’s capital and the popular embrace of a modified Obama campaign mantra from “Yes we can” to “Yes we did,” Scoggins said there was much of King’s mission left to accomplish.
“We’re not there yet,” he said over the phone as he and his wife walked the National Mall. “We got a long way to go.”
Jason Wells hit the Glendale streets Sunday and asked five people:
"How do you think Barack Obama’s inauguration Tuesday affects the life and memory of Martin Luther King Jr., his quest and the holiday that commemorates it?"
“It was a dream, and now we get to live it.”
Catalina Sanchez, 25
“Everything he ever worked for, I think, has really paid off. I don’t think people understand how deep that is. It’s just too much for words, it really is.”
Joyce Librando, 18
“I think it gives people hope. To show that all men are created equal, and we are a nation that reflects that more and more.”
Iris Hidalgo, 32
“[Martin Luther King Jr.’s] dream, and with Obama’s inauguration, yeah, it’s realized. I think it’s a lesson that can also change politics throughout the globe.”
Paul Avion, 28
“I think it gives minorities, not only African Americans, more hope. And it gives them affirmation that it can happen, even 40 years later.”
Narine Yapundjian, 24
JASON WELLS covers City Hall. He may be reached at (818) 637-3235 or by e-mail at email@example.com.