Monday, January 19, 2009

A New National Scripture

Published: January 16, 2009
Found At New York Times

Barack Obama’s election as president had a thousand fathers in the long history of the struggle against American racism. But three events stand out as decisive in creating the possibility of an African-American president.

The first, in 1863, was Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which promised freedom but was followed by a century of harsh discrimination. The second was the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, signaling the end of legal tolerance for discrimination. The third was the speech the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave at the March on Washington in 1963, 100 years after Lincoln’s proclamation.

“I have a dream” is the refrain by which the speech is known — better known to Americans today than any other speech, even the Gettysburg Address. (In 2008, according to one study, 97 percent of American teenagers recognized the words as King’s.) But for all its familiarity and indisputable greatness, the origins and larger meaning of the speech are not generally understood.

The speech and all that surrounds it — background and consequences — are brought magnificently to life in Eric Sund­quist’s new book, “King’s Dream.” A professor of literature at the University of California, Los Angeles, Sundquist has written about race and ethnicity in American culture. In this book he gives us drama and emotion, a powerful sense of history combined with illuminating scholarship.

To read the entire review by Anthony Lewis, please click here.

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