'That Great Gift of Freedom'

Article excerpt

Byline: Jon Meacham

He was one of the first people Barack Obama saw. As the president-elect walked onto the inaugural dais, he turned to his right to embrace John Lewis of Georgia. Beaten in the streets of the South four decades ago, Lewis, now a congressman from Atlanta, could scarcely believe he had lived to see what unfolded in the ensuing moments on the West Front of the Capitol, where Barack Hussein Obama took the oath of office to become the 44th president of the United States. From Lewis to the pageant of former presidents to the little girls the Rev. Joseph Lowery called "angelic," Malia and Sasha, watching their father assume ultimate authority, past, present and future all came together in the shadow of the dome.

"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real," Obama said. "They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America--they will be met." Evoking George Washington in the bleak days of the Revolutionary War, Obama concluded: "Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."

That gift of freedom is the theme of this special issue. To commemorate the Obama inauguration, we commissioned some of the country's leading historians, writers and activists to explore the origins and course of American liberty in light of the 44th president's historic victory. We're delighted to have essays from Lewis, Michael Beschloss, Walter Isaacson, Annette Gordon-Reed, Evan Thomas, Louisa Thomas, James M. McPherson, Josiah Bunting III, Ronald C. White Jr., Sean Wilentz, Vernon E. Jordan Jr., Tom Brokaw, David J. Garrow, Joseph J. Ellis, Alice Walker, Eleanor Clift, Andrew Solomon, Rebecca Walker and Henry Louis Gates Jr.

We also gathered reactions and thoughts from the following voices: Maya Angelou, Kara Walker, Junot Diaz, Magic Johnson, Gloria Steinem, Wynton Marsalis, Scott Turow, Wanda Sykes, Nadine Gordimer, Frank Langella, Anna Deavere Smith and Sidney Poitier.

Led by Kathleen Deveny and Mark Miller, the issue was produced by a formidable NEWSWEEK team that included Marc Peyser, David Jefferson, Devin Gordon, Raina Kelley, Allison Samuels, Malcolm Jones, Tony Dokoupil, Jeneen Interlandi, Matthew Philips, Kurt Soller, Sarah Ball, Kate Leffingwell, Christine Mejia, Eliza Gray, Susan McVea, Nick Summers, Jennie Yabroff and Jesse Ellison. …