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obamafamily (15K)I saw them all: Full Circle
By Herbert Harris

As a young black man, I attended the March on Washington in 1963 and heard Dr. King proclaim the powerful words - "I have a dream." Older black people, our elders and parents, admonished us not to attend this march. They were fearful that there would be trouble - that we would be hurt, injured, or killed. My mother had told me specifically to stay away from that march stuff.

Our black elders had felt the wrath of angry white racist and knew what could happen when black people "didn't know their place." But we were young, full of hope, and yet also afraid. Two groups of black students with whom I was supposed to ride to Washington from New York City chickened out. My friend and I began to have second thoughts as we stood on the corner of 125th Street and Seventh Avenue where we were supposed to meet our last ride. (Seventh Avenues had not yet been named Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard.)

As we were considering the possibility of hitch-hiking to Washington, an African student whom I had seen before on campus at Columbia, pulled up and asked if we were going to the March on Washington. We said yes, jumped in his car, and headed south.

From my perspective, the people who participated in the 1963 march were predominantly young black people with an interesting mix of courageous black leaders and well-intentioned white people. There were a number of foreigners sprinkled throughout the crowds.

There were no jumbo TV screens. Only loud speakers carried the speakers' words. Yet, we could feel every nuance of their messages. The March was executed with precision. Everyone seemed to know what to do. The overall feeling was that of challenge. Dr. King and the young people who attended the march were challenging America to do the right thing and live up to the promises made in the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution.

As a middle aged man I attended the Million Man March and the Million Family March. The energy and feeling was entirely different from the March on Washington. The feeling of these marches was that it was our thing. Black people were asserting themselves as a collective force in America. These marches were both executed with military precision. There were enough jumbo TV screens that everyone could see exactly what was going on. The sound system was powerful. You could hear and feel the power of every speaker's words.

Finally, as a seasoned citizen, I attended the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America. This was different. The numbers of people attending far exceeded all previous marches. Estimates of 2 million are probably on the low side since thousands of people could not gain admission or gave up due to the total lack of organization on the day of the event.

Thousands of us wandered from place to place for nearly two hours trying find entry to the reserved reviewing areas and entry to the national mall. There were insufficient signs, no one to give instructions. It was as though the planners planned everything up to the day of the event. But, the people were patient. They were there for a purpose. Not a single arrest.

Once we finally gained admission to the reserved areas, we still couldn't see anything because there were not enough jumbo TV screens. The main screen up front was hidden by trees. The sound system was insufficient. When we could barely hear Aretha Franklin sing, you know there is a problem. The poor sound system took much of the booming power out of President Obama's inaugural address. We could barely hear his speech - and we were upfront in the reserved area.

Yet, in spite of all the short comings in production and execution, President Obama's inauguration brought Dr. King's dream full circle. Dr. King had the Dream. Barack Obama is the Dream. Black people, white people - Jews, gentiles, Muslims - , people from all over the world shared this moment in the spirit of brotherhood. The audience mix was very different from all previous marches. There were more young white people and older black people in this group. The overall feeling was that of collective victory for change in America. As a young white woman proclaimed, "We have taken our country back."

Herbert Harris is author of The Twelve Universal Laws of Success and America the Racist?. He may be contacted at Visit his websites: and

© Jan 2009 by Afromerica || [TOP]


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