Linking the presidential inauguration and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Presidential inauguration celebrations have been carefully orchestrated to make the most of linking  Obama with the civil rights era. Photo: Library of Congess - Public domain

SAN JOSE, January 20, 2013 – The celebrations planned for President Obama’s inauguration this coming Monday, seem to be overshadowing the day to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as the two events appear to coincide.

In reality though, the legal inauguration ceremony is this Sunday as January 20th is the date established by the United States’ government as the actual date when the presidential oath of office is to be sworn by the president-elect. The Constitution requires that the duly elected president make an oath, or affirm the oath, of office before taking the actual control of the Executive Branch of the government. It is this simple oath that President Obama will affirm on Sunday in a private ceremony.

The hoopla and celebrations surrounding the inauguration will occur on Monday and will surely coincide with the day set aside by President Ronal Reagan to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. But it may not be assumed that one event will overshadow the other. Instead, the two events could be viewed as more prominently significant since this is the first time America is celebrating the inauguration of a black president on the same day the nation is honoring the very icon of the Civil Rights Movement. The significance is not being lost on the Obama inauguration team. Although scaled down quite a bit from the 2009 inaugural ceremonies, the planned events are substantial. The blending of the two events seems to be masterfully choreographed.

Appreciating the significance for the struggle for freedom for the black community, the inaugural committee has reported that President Obama will affirm the oath of office by utilizing Bibles that were formerly owned by Abraham Lincoln and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is also planned that Obama will face the Lincoln Memorial as he repeats the oath of office. Another plan to weld the two events is an attempt to link the inauguration to the civil rights movement by having the invocation delivered by Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of Medgar Wiley Evers, the civil rights activist who was slain in June of 1963. This may be the first time a woman who is a lay person, not a member of the clergy, will deliver this significant ceremonial prayer.

Actually, the inauguration celebration on Monday seems to be well orchestrated and intended not to overshadow the regular celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In fact a main point of the celebration seems to be to make the most of a linkage between Obama and the civil rights era. The connection appears as if it is mutually beneficial to Obama and to the memory of Rev, King. It is apparently an opportunity too good to pass up. Over the course of America’s history, various presidents have expanded upon the simple affirmation of the oath to more elaborate inaugurations which established traditions including the parades, political speeches, and the various inaugural balls.

Unfortunately, some of the Martin Luther King Day commemorations have had to be re-arranged to accommodate the inauguration festivities, although others will continue as originally planned. Bernice King, Dr. King’s youngest daughter, has expressed that she does not believe Obama’s inauguration will overshadow the day to honor her father. She was recently quoted as saying, “I think it enhances the observance, actually, because it heightens people’s awareness about the King holiday… I also think it gives some sort of validation to the significant work that my father made to this country, to this world, in fact.”

In truth, such validation works both ways and can certainly generate political capital for Obama. Hopefully, Bernice King is right in her assessment that this alignment of special days will heighten people’s awareness of the King holiday and of Dr. King’s message and his work. He certainly was more than just a leader of a secular movement for black American’s civil rights. Dr. King was genuinely a man of God, and it was his relationship with God that gave him such strength and courage to transform himself from the humble preacher to the modern-day prophet and the social activist.

In the face-paced and turbulent world that people find themselves in today, it is a danger that Americans could lose touch with the deeper essence of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. His stronghold was his Christian faith and his sincere determination to pursue the radical transformation of the human heart. For those for whom it mattered, while Dr. King was alive, Americans had a rare opportunity to witness a genuine man of God at work in the daily activities of putting faith into practice. His energy was like a magnet that attracted people to the movement, and his energy kept the movement true to its purpose.

While in jail in Birmingham in 1963, he wrote: “Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends.”

In President Obama’s case, it is only natural that he acknowledges such a true foundation that helped to get him into the White House in the first place – the African-American Civil Rights Movement. U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who assisted Rev. King in that movement recently said, “If it hadn’t been for Martin Luther King Jr., there would be no Barack Obama as president.” It is important that Dr. King’s message and methods not be forgotten, even on a day when his legacy shares the spotlight with America’s first black president.

Especially, what must be kept in perspective is that Dr, King was fighting against an entrenched and unreasonable system of governmental controls that encroached upon the freedoms of American citizens who should have received equal rights long before the essential amendments to the Constitution eventually guaranteed them. On the other hand, President Obama is now in the sweet seat of power. Millions of Americans are concerned that he is the one who is busy entrenching an unreasonable system of governmental controls that are increasingly threatening and attacking the very freedoms Americans of all races and religions take for granted.

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Dennis Jamison
Dennis Jamison
Dennis Jamison reinvented his life after working for a multi-billion dollar division of Johnson & Johnson for several years. Now semi-retired, he is an adjunct faculty member  at West Valley College in California.  He also currently writes a column on history and one on American freedom for the Communities at the Washington Times.


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