Instead of going to Washington, D.C., on January 20 to witness a media and political circus, I chose to stay in New York City, the nation’s first capital, to read the 55 prior inaugural speeches of U.S presidents with each of them raising one hand and placing the other hand on the Bible and repeating after the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court ,the words expressed in Article 1, section 1, clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution.
By using Abraham Lincoln’s Bible on January 20, President Barack Hussein Obama has constructively invited Chief Justice Roger Taney to his inaugural ceremony. Taney used this Bible to swear in Lincoln who, in 1861,was pro-slavery and would execute an emigration plan for Blacks and compensation for slaveholders. Moreover, Taney’s brother-in-law, Francis Scott Key, wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
All presidential inaugurals are scripted. Excluding race, Obama’s presidential inauguration was a carbon copy of the prior 55 presidential inaugurations, all of which were staged in the District of Columbia, except the presidential inaugurations of “His Excellency” George Washington, who was the nation’s biggest landlord, a descendant of King Edward III and a relative of Queen Elizabeth II.
The master script to presidential inaugurations was written in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1787.It was a secret meeting restricted to white males. They carved out a timocracy. It would be fueled by xenophobia, misogyny, plutomania and ergophobia. Despite Obama’s promise of “change,” the script will remain intact.
Sitting atop the dome of the U.S. Capitol is the Statue of Freedom, a sculpture that was completed by Philip Reed, an enslaved African and master craftsman. Thomas Crawford, an American sculptor, refused to disassemble the plastic model. Reed, armed with the expertise, disassembled it, transported it to the bronze foundry and later hoisted it atop the dome of the Capitol. It is the second tallest structure (excluding the Washington Monument) in the District of Columbia.
Obama’s ascendancy to the White House can be attributed to the Fifteenth Amendment, which was ushered in by the Black men and women who sacrificed their lives during the Civil War. Their courage and fortitude on battlefields would push Black men ahead of white women politically.
Yet, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Harry and Harriette Moore, Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer and Martin L. King, Jr. among others, still had their work carved out for them to secure voting rights for historically oppressed groups. Political rights, for many, is still a constitutional illusion. The “Great Leap Forward” is not Obama’s ascendancy to the White House, but the sprint that our revered ancestors participated in from the end of slavery in 1865 to the election of Rev. Hiram R. Revels to the U.S. Senate from Mississippi in 1870.
This was before the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment. Blanche K. Bruce would follow Revels to the U.S. Senate from Mississippi in 1875.A Black person, in the U.S. Senate, was unimaginable in 1863.Blacks in Mississippi were still enslaved.
No enslaved African in 1863 would have imagined also that the University of South Carolina would be integrated in 1873. This university became predominantly Black. Richard T. Greener, Harvard’s first Black graduate, on whose shoulders Obama stands, was graduated from the University of South Carolina Law School in 1876.Greener was co-counsel in the defense of Whittley Whitaker, a Black cadet at West Point.
Politically, the status of Blacks resembles the rights of American colonists and Blacks in the District of Columbia today. Our political representatives can be seen but not heard. Cong. Adam Clayton Powell was booted off Capitol Hill for advocating “Black Power.” First Lady Michelle Obama learned about her absence of First Amendment rights the hard way when she exposed her true feelings about this country. Her transmission is still in reverse. This was a warning to the future president of the United States.
Oddly enough, Obama’s constituencies gained their voting rights from military engagements. The Fifteenth Amendment, ratified after the Civil War, empowered Black males. The Nineteenth Amendment, ratified after World War I, empowered women. World War II lifted citizenship restrictions on Asians. The Twenty-sixth Amendment, after the Vietnam War, lowered the voting age to 18.
Between 1865 and 2008,the Black struggle would be in the vanguard of empowering the various constituencies politically that would put Obama in the White House. This struggle was played out not only on battlefields, but also on the roadways and highways of this country in addition to its courtrooms. Obama is not a pioneer in this struggle, but he and the Democratic Party are its beneficiaries. We must learn our history. The constitutional amendments, giving rise to voting rights after the Civil War, arose from the engagements of this country’s military on foreign soil. Since the French and Indian Wars, Black men have fought in every military engagement. No war or conflict could have been won without them.
Even Black men not in uniform won wars for this country. If you consider that propaganda is the first stage of warfare, Jesse Owens and Joe Louis, for example, won World War II before a shot was fired on a battlefield.
These men shattered the Nazis’ philosophy of white supremacy. Afterward, the United States would prosecute them for tax violations. My thanks to James Bryson for the gift: “Heroes With- out a Country.”
On the other hand, urban rebellions and the Civil Rights Movement fueled the Voting Rights Act of 1965, thus, strengthening the voting rights of historically oppressed groups. Blacks suffered many fatalities, including Medgar Evers and Malcolm X. Dr. King paid the ultimate cost for exercising First Amendment rights. This is the cost of real struggle.
Obama’s presidential inauguration refused to be upstaged by prior presidential inaugurations. With Aretha Franklin and Rev. Joseph Lowery on the program, upstaging them would be difficult. Obama’s speech, like prior inaugural speeches, sounded like a federal complaint. It begged for a bill of particulars.
When Obama speaks about national service, it sounds like slavery. Service means duties without rights. This has been the story of Blacks for 400 years. We are still looking for our rights. Rhetoric promotes hope. Promises yield compensation. This is an element of distributive justice and justice should have been mentioned in his presidential address.
The Bible says, “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other.” Virtually every Black elected official will serve the white master and despise their Black constituents. Henry David Thoreau said it best: “The law will never make men free; it is men who have got to make the law free.” Blacks must remember this quote daily over the next four years. Otherwise, they will go into hibernation after embracing the fallacy that President Obama will free them. Nothing will be farther from the truth. On January 20, Obama stepped up to the plate. Stay tuned for his at-bat.
Letters of support for this column should be addressed to: Alton Maddox, 16 Court Street, Ste.1901, Brooklyn, N.Y.11241. I am fighting judicial retaliation for writing this column under the First Amendment. Jan.28–Rally to sustain the Brawley struggle at 7:30 p.m. at the Elks Plaza, 1068 Harriet Tubman Avenue (Fulton Street) near Classon Avenue in Brooklyn. Take the “C” train to Franklin Avenue and walk three blocks to Elks Plaza. See: www.reinstatealtonmaddox.net for “Why We Must Pursue Tawana Brawley,” “The Next Step in the Brawley Struggle,” “Would Dr. King Fear Tawana Brawley?” Test Your Knowledge of Brawley and Defamation,” “Roller Coaster Ride for Blacks” and “Critical Lessons in Black History.”