A testament to Democracy’s power

Published 7:46 pm Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A day before America elected the first black president, I sat down to talk with one of Pike County’s many black veterans. In hindsight, it was a fitting prelude to the history-making moment that was to come.

John McGuire, a 77-year-old veteran of the Korean War, these days lives quietly in Troy. I was privileged to interview him on Monday at his home for the paper’s upcoming Veterans Day special section.

While Mr. McQuire and I sat on a bench behind his house, looking over a stretch of pasture where he raises a few cows, he told me about being drafted into the Army in 1952, at age 19.

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I asked him how he felt about being sent off to war. He shrugged. He said he didn’t really want to go, but he “knew we needed to serve our country.”

Without complaint John McGuire put his life on hold and risked death for a country that, at the time, was still asking him to sit at the back of the bus.

Today, we live in an America where a black man is president. I wonder if John McGuire thought he would ever see the day. I wonder if any of us did.

And yet, Barack Obama’s historic election win has not been universally lauded here in Pike County — look no further than the comments posted Wednesday on the Messenger’s Web site. The first of them calls Obama’s election “a sad day in America.”

Frankly, I could not disagree more.

No matter how you feel about our new president’s political views, the very fact of his presidency is a testament to the enduring power of Democracy. That Obama, son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, can rise from a background of no particular advantage and through determination and hard work attain the most powerful position in our county should serve as inspiration to everyone, regardless of race.

Obama’s win is a striking conformation of our nation’s great, fundamental axiom that “all men are created equal.”

As a young white man, I feel I can only partially grasp what Obama’s victory means for Americans of color. I can only testify to the things I witnessed on Tuesday — the excitement on the faces of black voters at the Academy Street polling place in Troy and the chanting of students at Troy University who flooded the streets in the moments after Obama’s win.

What does all this mean for me and the millions of white Americans who for the first time have a president whose face does not look like our own? It means we trust that our president will look beyond race and lead us all as Americans.

Times may have changed in America, but old wounds heal slowly, a fact never more evident than here in the South. The world of segregation and overt racism that is a history lesson for my generation is an all too vivid memory for many people in this community.

Obama was not the favored candidate of the majority of people in this county or Alabama. But he is our president. His time in office will give us all a chance to look beyond barriers, both racial and political, and see that much more binds us together than separates us.

We love to label ourselves in colors. Black and White. Red and Blue. But no matter how often we disagree, all Americans are united by common belief that Democracy works, that our voices can and should be heard, and that no matter who you are, no dream is beyond your grasp.

Matt Clower is news editor of The Messenger. He can be reached at 670-6323.