Many of you know that my education is in History. Specifically American History. Specifically Ante-Bellum American History. Specifically the American South in the 18th Century.
In that focus, it’s impossible to not study and be aware of the impact of slavery and race in our history. To say it is important is a great understatement. It is the lasting carryover of our dark, shameful history in this country. Slavery and racism is our sad legacy and the lasting effects of it can be felt all over America.
I’m writing this not as a joyful, gleeful, hopeful Democrat (which, naturally, I AM!), but as an observer and student of the history of our country. What I’m about to write is not partisan.
Last night, as I was watching Obama’s acceptance speech, tears were streaming down my face. And it wasn’t even his eloquent, beautiful words. It was a keen awareness of the fact that I was watching history being made. I was a part of history. The feeling and the awareness was overwhelming to me. It’s something I’ve never felt before- not truly.
“Watching history being made” is a statement that is bandied about without much concern for what it means these days. People always think that what happens in their lifetimes will be everlasting, but it isn’t the case. Almost everything becomes a footnote, only focused on and studied by historians with specific, esoteric fields of study. The 2000 and 2004 elections will not be widely remembered in 200 years. I’m even prepared to say that George Bush will not be widely remembered- even though his is officially our most unpopular president ever. Kids in advanced history classes in High School will memorize his name and some cute little mnemonic to remember that he was 43, but his legacy- good or bad- will not endure for centuries. I know it is hard to imagine, given our passions about him and his politics, but people were just as passionate about Taft (remembered for getting stuck in his bathtub) and Chester A. Arthur (remembered for his especially ridiculous facial hair).
But what happened last night was different. This is a date that little kids will have to memorize. This is a man who statues will be built for and High Schools will be named after. This isn’t politics, this is an honest-to-god defining moment in American History. This is as significant as Cornwallis surrendering to George Washington in Yorktown, VA. This is as significant as a group of soldiers in Charleston, S.C firing on US Soldiers at Ft. Sumter. This is as significant as the Constitutional Convention. This is a Pearl Harbor.
That we have gone from a Nation built on the back of slaves only 150 years ago, and a nation that murdered black men and women trying to vote 70 years ago to a country that just elected a black man as our leader is something to truly be proud of. Our changing nation is miraculous.
I feel like this is a moment to savor- a moment to ignore the political squabbling and the division and the arguments and the anger and frustration and disappointment (and trust me, as a Democrat, boy do I ever know how you feel) and to just embrace that we have become a nation that has just thrown off the largest lasting yoke of inequality in this country. Today, we are truly all Americans. We truly all have a voice. We truly belong to one United nation.
I am so awed. And so proud.