Racism in America has been a major issue ever since President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This Executive Order was issued on January 1, 1863, during the Civil War and proclaimed the freedom of 3.1 million of the nation’s 4 million slaves. About 50,000 or so were freed immediately with the remainder freed as the Union armies advanced. Of course, the total abolition of slavery was finalized by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution which became effective in December 1865. Although African Americans were the main focus on the Executive Order, the Thirteenth Amendment makes involuntary servitude illegal under any U. S. jurisdiction whether at the hands of the U.S. Government or in the private sphere, except as punishment for a crime.
Some form of racism continues to exist throughout the world. As in most countries, many people in the United States continue to have some prejudices against other races. In the view of the US Human Rights Network, “Discrimination permeates all aspects of life in the United States, and extends to all communities of color.” Racism against African Americans, Latin Americans, and Muslims is widely acknowledged. The US Human Rights Network, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, is a national network composed of over 200 self-identified grassroots human rights organizations and over 700 individuals working to strengthen what they regard as the protection of human rights in the United States. The organization seeks “to challenge the pernicious belief that the United States is inherently superior to other countries of the world, and that neither the US government nor the US rights movements have anything to gain from the domestic application of human rights.”
Although much progress has been made in attempting to eliminate racism, some believe that there was a significant set-back when President Barack Obama was inaugurated as President. Twenty-first century racism at its finest emerged. The rage during the campaign and over the past 3-1/2 years have been unprecedented especially when you hear emotionally charged members of the white community say that they want to, “take their country back” as though it has disappeared because there is an African American President in the White House. I believe that the overall impact on our society, however, with the election of President Obama is significant primarily because he has “paved the way” for other minorities to achieve the same level of success–the opportunity to hold the highest office in the nation and maybe even the world. This, in my view, is at the core of the right-wing anger against this President to discourage other African Americans from seeking this high office. Of course President Obama’s success was made possible because of some early “pioneers” including non African Americans. The Jackie Robinson story comes to mind.
In 1945, Jackie played one season in the Negro Baseball League, traveling all over the Midwest with the Kansas City Monarchs. But greater challenges and achievements were in store for him. Although racism was very prevalent, in 1947, Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey approached Jackie about joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Major Leagues had not had an African-American player since 1889, when baseball became segregated. When Jackie first donned a Brooklyn Dodger uniform, he pioneered the integration of professional athletics in America. At the end of Robinson’s rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he had become the National League Rookie of the Year with 12 homers, a league-leading 29 steals, and a .297 average. In 1949, he was selected as the NL’s Most Valuable player of the Year and also won the batting title with a .342 average that same year. Jackie was eventually inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. As a result, the color barrier particularly for African Americans was broken, not only in baseball, the nation’s preeminent sport, but also in sports, business, academia, government, and especially in politics.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is another pioneer for Civil Rights through his non-violent marches and demonstrations, and this week, he is being acknowledged on the National Mall by the unveiling of a monument in his honor. Not only is this an outstanding achievement, he is the only African American to receive such an honor.
African Americans had already been elected to the highest state office as governors, but now one has reached the pinnacle of the political spectrum as President of the United States. Like most people, African Americans and other minorities’ just want an opportunity and those who have the drive and determination will not only succeed but will far excel in their endeavor. Although my federal career started in the 1960s during a time when racism in the federal government was a bit subtle, I was honored to be the highest ranking African American in a Federal agency and presented with the agency’s highest honor when I retired in 2002. I believe that many successful minorities have experienced some form of racism during their careers.
I believe that President Obama will serve a second term and when the annals of history are written, the record of his accomplishments will be ranked among some of this country’s greatest presidents. Maybe during his second term, racism will finally be put to rest at least for a season.
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