Linking Dr. King's Dream to Obama's Inauguration

Jan 21, 2013

Credit Mike Licht,; source: Library of Congress

As President Barack Obama was sworn in for a second term today, the nation celebrated the life of civil-rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  And January First marked the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing hundreds of thousands of slaves.  

Placing his hand on two Bibles -- one used by President Abraham Lincoln at his first Inauguration and one used by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. -- Obama took a public oath of office on Monday, after he was sworn in during a private ceremony Sunday. Myra Young Armstead, a history professor at Bard College, says Obama’s use of the two Bibles signifies the following.

Quincy Mills is an assistant professor of history who specializes in African-American history, at Vassar College. He says Obama’s inauguration, the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation make for a momentous occasion.

Freedom, he points out, on both sides of the issue.

Mills also says it is important to recognize that King’s dream dealt with economic security. He says during Obama’s first and second campaigns, he and the other candidates spoke very little about the poor.

Bard’s Young Armstead, who focuses on Urban as well as African-American History, says when King gave his “I have a dream” speech in 1963, the speech was  focused on segregation in the South, yet a few years later, King moved into a broader agenda of reform, including the launch of the poor people’s campaign. And it’s this broader agenda from which she draws a parallel between Dr. King’s and President Obama’s visions. Referring to Obama, she says:

And if he can level the playing field, Vassar’s Professor Mills says that playing field, to reflect Dr. King’s dream, would include the poor.