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Martin Luther King, Jr., Year of Birmingham at 50, Obama’s Second Inauguration

Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial, National Park Service

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. . . . Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University features an annotated copy of Dr. King’s letter online.

The Year of Birmingham led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to the Nobel Peace Prize for Dr. King in 1964, and to not just hope but change. “During his protest there in May 1963, the biblical spectacle of black children facing down Public Safety Commissioner Eugene (Bull) Connor’s fire hoses and police dogs set the stage for King’s Sermon on the Mount some four months later at the Lincoln Memorial. And the civil rights movement’s ‘Year of Birmingham’ passed into history as an epic narrative of good versus evil,” according to civil rights historian Diane McWhorter.

The Year of Birmingham coincides with the beginning of President Barrack Obama’s second term.  President Obama took his oath with his hand on two Bibles: one once owned by Dr. King and another once owned by Abraham Lincoln.

Professor and activist Cornel West is outraged that President Obama would use Dr. King’s Bible without endorsing Dr. King’s “black freedom struggle.” “Martin went to jail talking about carpet bombing in Vietnam and trying to organize poor people, fighting for civil liberties,” Prof. West said. President Obama “has a compromising kind of temperament.”

A poll in 2012 by The Associated Press showed that racial prejudice had increased since 2008 when the President took office. In 2011, 52% of non-Hispanic whites expressed anti-Hispanic attitudes. The figure rose to 57% when measured by an implicit racial attitudes test in 2012. 51% of Americans expressed explicit anti-black attitudes in 2012, compared with 48% in 2008. The anti-black number jumped to 56 percent in the implicit test. Experts were not surprised.

Hope springs eternal.

In November 2012, 93% of blacks, 73% of Asians, 71% of Latinos, and 55% of women voted for the President. 39% of non-Hispanic Whites voted for the President, according to an AP Exit Poll.

“I think there is overwhelming joy and pride that Barack Obama has been re-elected, but every community wishes for more,” according to Roslyn M. Brock, the chairman of the board of the NAACP. “I am hopeful and prayerful that in his second term, he will get to the social issues that continue to plague us, and leave his legacy, his mark, on them.”