Very First Thoughts on Obama’s Acceptance Speech.

I have been a collector and student of speeches most of my life. I’ve even written and given a few. On top of that, being the son of a minister and having been a minister myself, speechcraft has been something of a vocational necessity. So tonight, the last night of the Democratic National Convention, I was looking forward to hearing Barak Obama deliver his acceptance speech for the office of president of the United States. After hearing him in Hartford, Connecticut’s Xcel Center the night before Super Tuesday primaries, I was very impressed with his ability to communicate his ideas and motivate and inspire his listeners. He definitely knows the mechanics of giving a good, connective speech. However, as Barak Obama began to deliver his acceptance speech in Denver’s Mile High Stadium, I was most struck merely with the moment. He didn’t have to say a word for me to be inspired and intellectually and emotionally moved. You see, what I was most awed by was just merely the fact that an African-American was actually nominated to be the president.

As Obama approached the podium, a few distant childhood thoughts crossed my mind. For some part of my young life, I grew up in a small North Carolina town, some 40 miles north of Charlotte. Newton, North Carolina was a town where back in the 1960’s you could easily discern the black section of town, strangely called Snow Hill, from the white sections of town. Segregation in Newton in the 60’s was alive and well and all the trappings of separatism were very easy to find. I remember quite distinctly seeing the segregated bathrooms and water fountains at the local A&P supermarket and even separate check out lines in a department store in town. And then there was the usual insulting epithets heard that often included the N-word and the demeaning nickname, “boy.” I even saw a cross burned by the Klan.

What I remember the most however, was the first day of my fourth-grade school year. It just so happened that it was the first time an African-American child was integrated into the all-white elementary school I attended. He happened to ride the same school bus I rode on and when we arrived at school that first day, there were a small number of white adults waiting at the school bus stop shouting racial insults and indignities and my black friend. Hearing their derogatory insults and seeing their angry face caused my friend to start crying in fear. Trying to get away from the hateful people, I ran a little interference and helped him get into the school. Soon thereafter the police arrived, but by that time, the small crowd of bigots had made their exit off the school grounds. I figured they would be back in coming days, but fortunately, they never showed up again. Nevertheless, my friend was definitely freaked out over the affair. As it were, he never finished out the school year. His parents decided it best to move away and get him to safer environs, perhaps somewhere up north.

Even though I was brought up in a self-described God-fearing community where most people described themselves as Bible Belt Christians, what I witnessed on a day-to-day basis was a deceived world view that provided a stark contrast to the biblical command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Racism is such a deceitful ideology, yet most of the Christians I knew at the time, bought into it lock, stock, and barrel. On Sundays there was the usual talk of “loving in Christian love,” but the practical outworking of that belief had no legs to get it out of the church house.

As time passed and I grew to adulthood, I gained greater interest in the racial history and ideology that created the world I grew up in. Wanting to understand how those segregate water fountains came about and what the cause for civil rights was all about drove me to ask tough questions of my Christian friends. Some of their answers were just beyond reconciliation to their Christian confession.

Even though I grew to better understand the racial history of the country and believed that things would get better for my African-American friends, it was hard to fathom the thought that a black man (or woman) would ever be nominated or possibly elected to the highest office in the land in my lifetime. Well things, thank God, are different now and I am just thrilled to see Barak Obama standing up as the nominee of one of America’s great political parties. This day is a great day for Barak Obama, his party, the nation, and me too, – a lily-white guy who lived on the periphery of Snow Hill.

Related Articles:

Obama’s Acceptance Speech – WBUR


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