Old fears, prejudices erased in one lifetime

November 9, 2008 - Sioux Falls Argus Leader, by Marty Gallanter

When the networks declared Barak Obama the president elect of the United States of America , I was unable to hold back the tears.  Even though I have become more emotional as I age, I am not one known to cry easily.  But here the tears came quickly, as I always knew they would.  I knew that if God granted me the ability to live to see an African-American elected president of United States that, on that night, my emotions would rule.

In 1964 I cried when the racist murders in Mississippi took the life of my friend Andrew Goodman.  Andy, along with James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, - a trio of community activists that came to be known simply as “the three civil rights workers” – was kidnapped and murdered on June 21st of 1964 by members of the Ku Klux Klan in rural Mississippi .  I took training in non-violent protest techniques in the same class with Andy and went to Mississippi as part of the same contingent of volunteers that Freedom Summer.  If fate has twisted just a little differently, it might have been my body the FBI found buried at the base of that earthen dam.  Back then I cried for all three of these martyrs to American liberty, but especially for Andy because it was personal.

And so was the racism I saw exhibited even after the shock of the murders became public.  There were those who said these young men got what they deserved; that they should have stayed home (James Chaney was home) and not have come south to “cause trouble.”  Andy and Michael and James were not the first to die of the disease of racial hatred, nor would they be the last.  Another soon-to-become-a-martyr, Dr. Martin Luther King had spoken the summer before about his dream of how his children would someday be measured by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin.

That dream came true. Barak Obama, an African-American man was judged by the American voters on his character and not on the color of his skin.  No statement could be stronger than to elect him to the highest office in our republic. 

I am so proud of this great country of ours, proud enough to cry.  In one human lifetime – mine – racism diminished from a driving force in our society to a withering wart destined now to eventually dry up and blow away in an historic breeze.  Every American, whether or not a supporter of this candidate, can, if he or she chooses, take comfort in living in a country where old fears and prejudices may be erased in the lifetime of one person.  That can happen only in America .

We are far from perfect.  There is much work to be done in our nation, but this election has proved what I have believed from the time I was a teenager. We shall overcome.  So forgive me while I cry.

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