by Bob Roehr
Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta was the home to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.; it remains a touchstone of the civil rights movement. The Sunday before the holiday honoring his birth has become the pulpit for leading politicians to speak of their vision of that legacy. The speaker last year was Hillary Clinton, this year it was Barack Obama.
It was a stellar performance by the Democratic presidential aspirant, who exhibited all of the traits that make him such an attractive candidate to many Americans. And he included gays under the mantle of the struggle for justice and equality.
Obama used King’s words to speak of the need for unity “to overcome the essential deficit that exists in this country…I’m talking about a moral deficit. I’m talking about an empathy deficit. I’m talking about an inability to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brother’s keeper; we are our sister’s keeper; that, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.”
He spoke of the difficulty and the cost of overcoming the barriers to justice and equality. “It starts with a change in attitudes–a broadening of our minds and a broadening of our hearts.”
Obama said African Americans have borne the brunt of much of this. “And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that none of our hands are entirely clean…We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them. The scourge of anti-Semitism has, at times, revealed itself in our community. For too long, some of us have seen immigrants as competitors for jobs instead of companions in the fight for opportunity.”
He called upon the congregation to begin by changing their hearts and minds. “We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate. It is the poison that we must purge from our politics.”
“…The changes that are needed are not just a matter of tinkering at the edges, and they will not come if politicians simply tell us what we want to hear. All of us will be called upon to make some sacrifice. None of us will be exempt from responsibility.”
A video of Obama’s speech is available at http://my.barackobama.com/page/invite/mlkvideo and a link to the prepared text can be found below.