OBAMA'S ELECTION GIVES HOPE TO KING'S DREAM; African-Americans Review Progress in Equality and Work Still to Do

By Patton, Charlie | The Florida Times Union, January 19, 2009 | Go to article overview

OBAMA'S ELECTION GIVES HOPE TO KING'S DREAM; African-Americans Review Progress in Equality and Work Still to Do


Patton, Charlie, The Florida Times Union


Byline: CHARLIE PATTON

Regina Taylor-Murphy was sitting in her car in the driveway on election night when she heard that it was official.

Barack Obama had been elected president of the United States.

"I'm in my driveway, shouting at the top of my lungs," the 42-year-old mother of two sons remembered.

The election of an African-American as president was something she had hoped "could happen in my children's lifetime" but was sure would not happen in hers, she said.

She rushed into the house and woke her 11-year-old son, Damion, a student in the academic magnet program at Susie E. Tolbert Elementary School. She wanted to tell him history had happened.

Damion's reaction: "I knew, mom."

"My kids weren't even surprised," Taylor-Murphy marveled.

Damion's explanation: "He was the better person for the job. To me it's not really about color."

Damion lives in a multiracial world where his friends are "every race, every color," his mother said.

"It's amazing to me," Taylor-Murphy said. "It's so beautiful. They don't see it as history."

KING'S VISION REALIZED

On Aug. 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered the speech that some consider the defining moment of the American civil rights movement.

Initially proposed by A. Philip Randolph, a civil rights and labor leader who had grown up in Jacksonville, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom drew a crowd of more than 200,000 to the National Mall in Washington.

It climaxed with a stirring oration by King, now commonly called the I Have a Dream speech.

STARTING YOUNG

Calvin Burney, now a 21-year-old senior at Morehouse College, King's alma mater, started memorizing the speech when he was a preschooler in a day-care program run by his mother, Betty Burney, now a member of the Duval County School Board.

When he was in the fourth grade, Calvin was chosen to give the full speech, about 20 minutes of passionate oratory, as part of an annual program at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School.

Perhaps the most famous line in the address comes near the end: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

"To me personally, it's sort of a prophecy," Burney said. "What he hoped to see has come to be or is coming to be."

Burney knew the world had changed since King spoke in 1963, but he wasn't sure how much it had changed.

"Blacks didn't have the opportunities they have today," he said. "I knew we could get ahead. But there was always a ceiling. Now that ceiling has been moved. It has changed my vision completely.

"... It has lit a fire to strive to do great things."

ALWAYS 'BREAKING DOWN DOORS'

Unlike his grandson Damion, who took Obama's election as proof that he lives in a country where character trumps skin color, 68-year-old Robert Taylor was shocked at November's outcome.

But then Taylor, who grew up in a rigidly segregated Jacksonville, says he spent his lifetime having to excel just to prove he was good enough.

"My attitude was that no one would stop me," he said. "But I did wonder, why do I always have to be the one breaking down doors?"

In 1963, Taylor came back to Jacksonville after a three-year stint in the Army and enrolled at Jacksonville University.

It was only after he started class, Taylor said, that he realized he was integrating the school.

Neither the faculty nor the students embraced his presence, Taylor said. Future Mayor Tommy Hazouri, then a JU student, "was the only one who would sit next to me," Taylor said.

When he heard about King's speech and read its text, "I had a lot of mixed feelings," Taylor said. …

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