We had always wondered who would be the first even though we had always believed that there would never be a first. Ingrained in our history was this notion of second class citizenship and pariah status that dictated to us our place even though we had always known we are a great people. There was something about the way this society had been created that rendered our opinions of none effect. We were present but we were not relevant to the American conversation. For example, in the halls of Congress, our voices were not heard in the debate over the Thirteenth Amendment. Our votes were not counted concerning its ratification. Yet, we were central to the debate. We were not essential to the Congressional Record concerning the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We take it for granted now, but the Congressional Black Caucus had not been created. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. was our Congressional Black Caucus. Today, John Lewis is standing where he stood. Nevertheless, Shirley Chisholm knocked on the door of the White House. We stood at the gates watching to see what would happen. In our imagination, we conjured up James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman, and Dennis Haysbert. Others such as Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton, and Carol Moseley Braun eventually joined Shirley knocking on that White House door. We noticed someone peering through the curtains. A short time later, the door slowly began to open. We all held our breath when President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama stepped outside to greet them. As we began to exhale, we were so very much elated. We did not have a clue. It surprised us all. We began weeping uncontrollably. It seemed as if “justice was rolling down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” In quiet barely audible voices all, we could say was, “Thank you, Mr. President.”
Thank you President Obama. for giving us more healthcare. There are those trying to take it away now. Yet, history will not forget what you did for us. There are some who only focused on your faults and shortcomings. Yet, they did not read that passage about who would be allowed to cast the first stone. Thank you, Mr. President, for the Lilly Ledbetter Act which sought to make sure that those who discriminate in pay cannot hide behind a statute of limitations. Mr. President, they did not like you for what you did. Mr. President, they did not like you for what you said. You simply told us that “we are the ones that we have been waiting for.” Mr. President, you have carried yourself with such dignity and restraint. You showed us empathy. You actually wept with us. Your tears were no sign of weakness. Even Jesus wept. Your longing to serve us is evident in your regrets for what you were not able to accomplish. Mr. President, they do not like you for what you have done. They attempt to sully your record. However, history will be the ultimate decider. Long after your detractors have fallen from the face of the earth, generations hence will be reciting your name. There will be children who will be born on January 20, 2017, ho will grow up yearning for knowledge about you and not your successor. Children in my own family will grow into adulthood and ask what was it like to have a Black President? I will simply smile and answer it felt nice. It felt real nice.
Barack Obama’s work is too voluminous to mention in this short article. Libraries will be written about his two terms in office. Some of the books will focus on his foreign policy. Some will shed more light on his stance as Commander in Chief. Some of the books will look at his two presidential campaigns. There will be ample books about his race. There will be ample books about his being the first Black President. Some will focus on his family life. Eventually, as time passes, the name Barack Obama will sound like Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Thurgood Marshall, Ida B. Wells, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Blanche K. Bruce. The essential difference will be the term “President” in front of his name. In that sense, the name Barack Obama will eventually sound like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan. Mr. President, if I am not allowed to thank you for anything else, I thank you for adding your name to this list. It shall never be deleted. Your name shall never be whited out.
Anthony Neal earned his Ph.D. in political science at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University). Dr. Neal is an associate professor at State University College, Buffalo. The author of numerous book reviews and journal articles, he has had his work published in the Western Journal of Black Studies, the Journal of Black Studies, and Black Issues in Higher Education. In 2014 Dr. Neal received the university’s Faculty Appreciation Award, was named Instructor of the Year by the university’s United Student Government, and Professor of the Year by the Student Political Society in the Department of Political Science. In 2015, he published The American Political Narrative which is a succinct yet poignant narrative about the development of the American political system and what is needed to maintain it. In 2016, he will publish a book of poetry entitled “Love Agnostic | from 9/11 to Charleston”