The words in the title are from the second verse of We Shall Overcome, which I learned in the jailhouse in Selma, Ala., where I ended up while marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965. The whole song expresses his optimism that we can overcome our divisions.
My family and I always look forward to celebrating the birthday of Dr. King on Jan. 15. Three of our children are from minority groups African, Asian and Puerto Rican. The youngest two voted for the first time in 2008. Our family was proud that their first votes went to help elect our first African-American president, an election that depended heavily on the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Voting Rights Act would not have been possible without the vision and effort and optimism of Dr. King.
Dr. Kings birthday recalls many signal events in our progress toward a more inclusive and tolerant America: the Civil Rights movement, Bloody Sunday in Selma, the Voting Rights Act, the speech in Washington about his dream, and then tragically, his murder.
But the Voting Rights Act is not just history; it continues with us today as a powerful influence in our national life. Since 1965 a number of African-Americans and people from other minority groups have been voted into high office, including our own Ben Nighthorse Campbell to the U.S. Senate; the current governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick; the senator from Hawaii, Daniel Inouye; the current president of the Unitted States, and many other Americans including Natives and those of African, Asian and Hispanic heritage.
For young people who are voting for the first time, the election of Native Americans, African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans to high political offices might seem part of the ordinary process of our democracy. But for those of us born before World War II, the election of these officials mark a sea-change in our national life.
However, as a nation, our progress in racial tolerance is only partial. We are on the road, but we have a long way to go. Thus the Montelores Human Relations Coalition was founded in 2008 to help us celebrate our diversity. The Coalition is sponsoring a film festival this weekend to commemorate the work Dr. King did in promoting civil rights. There will be films shown at the Cortez Library on Saturday, at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church on Sunday and at the Cortez Cultural Center on Monday, at 4 p.m. each day. Please come and help us celebrate.
My guess is that the most profound impact we will see from the election of President Obama is the way it has freed the spirits of African-American people by starting to remove their age-old hurts political and emotional from slavery, segregation and discrimination.
So this week I invite you to celebrate Dr. Kings birth, with hope for the future. May it continue to be the source of a new birth of freedom in America.
Bill Jobin, of Cortez, is the director of Colorado Valley Ecologists.