As President Obama stands on the steps of the West Front of the Capitol on Monday, January 20 for his ceremonial swearing in, the moment will be awash with symbolism.
The second inauguration of the country's first African American president takes place on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the president will take the oath of office with his left hand on two bibles--one used by President Abraham Lincoln during his first inauguration and another owned by the slain civil rights leader.
This is only the second time that an inauguration has taken place on the King holiday. The first time was in 1997 at the start of President Clinton’s second term.
Rep. Elijah Cummings D- MD hopes people will be inspired by the intersection of events. “It is very significant that Martin Luther King’s birthday falls on the same day that President Obama will be sworn in for the second term,” he says.
“We know the fights that Dr. King fought and we know all that he accomplished in blood sweat and tears. On that same day that he was born, to see a man of color raise his hand for a second term after an election where voter suppression was an issue; a president who has been fought against by forces in the congress with regard to almost everything he has done but has achieved much and still has much to achieve. It just goes to show you how far we’ve come but it also shows you how far we have to go.”
Rev. CD Witherspoon, a political activist in Baltimore and president of the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, believes King’s work cleared a pathway for President Obama to be sworn in not just once, but twice. “His advocacy in voter registration created an environment conducive to elect an African American to the presidency,” he says.
In addition to incorporating Dr. King’s bible into Monday’s public swearing-in, Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evars will give the invocation. She's the first
woman and lay person to have the honor.
Bernice King, daughter of the slain civil rights leader and CEO of the King Center in Atlanta says her family feels privileged her father’s national holiday coincides with the president's inauguration. “We are honored as a family as we celebrate the second term inauguration of America’s first African American president in the 50th anniversary year of my father’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.”