Monday marked the federal holiday in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Nearly 50 years after King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a black president took the oath of office for a second time.
“This is extraordinarily significant,” said Paul Ortiz, an associate professor of history at the University of Florida. “Back in the ’60s, it would’ve been very difficult to conceptualize a black president.”
Ortiz said both men had their eyes set on social justice and realized change by doing rather than watching. He said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day invokes the idea of an active people and entails people doing things to improve their communities of their own accord, rather than waiting for someone else to take action.
“If you look at the way that Obama was first elected in 2008, you’ll see that many of the people who were going door to door were people who were veterans of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz also said he has been taking UF students to the Mississippi Delta for the last five years to interview and learn from Civil Rights Movement veterans. In one instance, Lawrence Guyot, chairman of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, spent hours teaching students the basics of community organizing. Guyot died last year at age 73.
“The generations of activism has made a difference,” Ortiz said. “To me, the lesson of the election of Barack Obama is that if you fight hard enough for a goal, if you learn how to create a social movement, then you can actually change the world for better.”
Kristen Morrell and Mike Llerena edited this story online.