My Obama Inauguration Benediction: A Singular Moment in Time

By Joseph Lowery 1-14-2009

Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, dubbed "the dean of the civil rights movement" by the NAACP and co-founder with Rev. Martin Luther King of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, will deliver the benediction at the inauguration of President Obama on January 20. Sojourners asked Rev. Lowery to reflect for us on how he feels to be asked to lead the benediction at the inauguration of American's first African-American president. We are grateful for his generous response. -The Editors

You would think attempting to summarize my feelings on having been asked to deliver the benediction at the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama would be simple.

In fact, it's quite a challenge, given the flood of emotions I have experienced in the past few weeks and months

Of course, at one level, I'm humbled and honored.

Like most Americans of a particular age, I never thought I'd live to see the day....

At an entirely different level, I'm engaged in a spiritual experience like nothing I have ever been exposed to-at any point in my life.

And this comes from one who shared in the Dream my friend and colleague Martin Luther King Jr. taught the nation about one hot August afternoon 45 years ago.

It comes from one who fought for the Voting Rights Act, for a Civil Rights Bill, and to free South Africa and liberate Nelson Mandela from 27 years of confinement as a political prisoner.

But, there's something much greater at work here.

I first sensed it in the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire where I saw the ruddy, frozen cheeks of white college students standing in snowdrifts up to their knees in support of the candidacy of Barack Obama.

I saw it as I watched a new generation text-messaging and using their iPods to spread the word about this extraordinary man.

I watched in awe, and with great satisfaction, as record numbers of Americans -- black, white, young, old, Latino, gay and straight, rich and poor -- registered to vote in order that they might participate in the greatest calling of a democracy: the right to engage in participatory democracy.

And it was a beautiful thing to see.

Finally, like most of us, I'm conscious of being called on to say something for those who are no longer here to share in this incredible event.

I think of Martin, Medgar Evers, and Ralph Abernathy. I wish Jimmy Lee Jackson, Viola Luizzo, and Rev. James Orange could be here to share in this.

I think of countless, unheralded heroes and heroines, and their innumerable acts of personal courage, struggle, and sacrifice that built the movement that on November 4, 2008, delivered Change to America.

I thank a loving and caring God who has allowed me to witness this watershed moment.

Like all Americans of good will, I say a prayer that a wise God will continue to guide and bless our new president as he navigates the ship of state through dangerous and challenging seas.

But I know too, as always, that the God on whom we depend did not bring us this far along the way to abandon us.

And, I know that what we are about to witness is an omnipotent God using his faithful and trusting children to continue the labor of bringing the Beloved Community to reality here on earth.


portrait-joseph-loweryRev. Joseph E. Lowery is founder of the Joseph E. Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights at Clark Atlanta University.

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