It will be a time for remembering, but also for looking forward, when next week's commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of a colorblind America segues into Day One of the nation's first black presidency.
"The whole notion Dr. King fought and died for is coming to fruition," said Wayne Alexander, chairman of the Fort Lauderdale Martin Luther King Jr. Day Committee.
For many, the events and ceremonies scheduled for next week have become inseparably intertwined. First, on Monday, there will be solemn reflection on the legacy of King, the civil rights leader assassinated in 1968.
But there also will be much talk and contemplation of what lies ahead for America as Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States the next day.
Fort Lauderdale attorney Gregory Durden, who grew up in Atlanta, is mindful of both past and future. As a boy, he watched King's body being carried down what was then Hunter Street; saw Sammy Davis Jr., Sen. Robert Kennedy and other notables among the mourners, and realized how important the neighbor who lived three streets away had been.
In his lectures to local kids, Durden said, Dr. King emphasized how anyone could make a difference. That, the lawyer says, is what led to Obama's triumph at the polls in November.
"Voters made a difference," Durden said. "You didn't have to be rich or wealthy."
Not all, of course, is rosy. A third of blacks in the United States live in poverty and lack health care. In South Florida and many other areas, blacks and whites often live in separate neighborhoods, attend separate churches and may live parallel lives that intersect only at the workplace.
Political scientist Ronald Walters of the University of Maryland says Obama's achievement is the completion of only one aspect of King's vision.
"Obama represents ... the political fulfillment, a narrow aspect of the dream," he said. "The connection of King, the leader of the civil rights movement, is the passing of the Voting Rights Act, which set up the political participation that has resulted in Barack Obama."
Since 1986, the third Monday in January has been a national holiday to honor King. His actual birthday was Jan. 15. Had he lived, he would be 80 years old.
This year, Obama's pending arrival at the White House is influencing how some in South Florida will commemorate King's work. Some people will spend the holiday, as Obama has urged, doing public service projects in honor of the slain Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
In West Palm Beach, the coordinating committee is postponing its King Day celebration until February, because members plan to take a chartered bus to Washington, D.C., on Monday to attend the inauguration.
"We just want to be in the vicinity," said Edith Bush, the committee's chairwoman. "The inauguration makes this King Day much more exciting."
Bush, an Alabama native who grew up during the era of segregation, wants to be in Washington on Tuesday because "King's dream is alive. The dream lives in Obama. This is our promised land."
Other South Floridians will extend their Monday holiday and stay home to watch the inauguration on television or attend a viewing party. The African-American Research Library and Cultural Center is sponsoring a big screen television watch party starting Tuesday morning.
Gussie Jacobs, a 90-year-old retired school cafeteria cook from Riviera Beach, will see Obama take the oath of office on her TV set at home. She began honoring King's memory on Sunday at a Unity Day service in Mangonia Park.
"I remember he had to struggle," she said. "He struggled a lot. But he made a difference."
Jacobs, who can remember a Florida where beaches, restrooms and restaurants were segregated by race, said the new president will continue King's work.
"He'll actually bring people closer together," she said. "We need a better understanding of each other — black and white and whatever."
Gregory Lewis can be reached at email@example.com or 954-356-4203.
Martin Luther King Jr's dream becomes reality with Barack Obama's inauguration
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