MLK III: Martin Luther King’s Bible makes historic journey to Obama’s inaugural
There’s a small, leather-bound Bible that holds special significance for my family. My father, Martin Luther King Jr., used it to prepare his first sermon as a pastor, at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He took it with him on the road, as he fought for freedom, equality, and opportunity. Today, the cover of that book has faded. Some of the pages are torn. No one has used that Bible since my father, and I never thought anyone would.
But on January 21, when President Obama takes the Oath of Office, he will place his hand on two Bibles. One belonged to President Lincoln. The other is my father’s.
It’s amazing to think about how far we have come since my father first opened that book almost 60 years ago. The Montgomery Bus Boycott. Bloody Sunday. The March on Washington. The Voting Rights Act. The Poor People’s Campaign. The Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike. Those struggles and sacrifices brought us to this moment. Who would have thought that just 45 years after my father’s death, we would see the re-election of our first African-American president, a vote of confidence from a clear majority of the American people?
Of course, my father would have been the first to point out that what most distinguishes President Obama is not the color of his skin, but the content of his character. At the heart of his vision is our nation’s founding creed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Like my father, the President has fought to give all Americans the opportunity to realize their dreams, no matter what they look like or where they come from.
President Obama also shares my father’s belief that everyone has something to offer their communities and everyone has a responsibility to serve. On the Saturday before his first Inauguration, in 2009, I joined the president-elect as we repainted a shelter for homeless teens in Washington, D.C. I was honored that the President and First Lady made a National Day of Service dedicated to my father’s memory part of Inauguration weekend, and I’m thrilled they are continuing that tradition this year. On Saturday, January 19, Americans in all 50 states will come together to lend their neighbors a hand.
If my father could see his work and his Bible still inspiring our country after all these years, I know he would be deeply grateful. But he would also remind us that the dream remains unfulfilled.
Half a century ago, in a Birmingham jail, my father wrote that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” By that measure, we still have work to do. The Bible on which President Obama will place his hand inspired my father to speak out for the poor, the jobless, the homeless, the disenfranchised and the oppressed. Those struggles are far from over.
So I believe the true value of this Inauguration lies not just in its connection to our past, but its connection to our future. Over three days, beginning with the National Day of Service and culminating with the swearing-in ceremony on the National Mall, Americans have a tremendous opportunity: a chance to reaffirm the commitment of those who came before us to leave something better for those who come after us.
This opportunity is especially personal to me – not only because of my father, but because of my daughter. When President Obama took office, she was just an infant. Today, at four years old, she is beginning to understand how much a moment can mean. Fifty years ago, her grandfather stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, looked toward the Capitol, and told America about a dream he had. In less than two weeks, her President will stand next to the Capitol, look toward the Lincoln Memorial, and tell America about his vision to help make that dream a reality.
I can’t predict the rush of emotions I will feel. But I know my family will join the entire American family as we look back with pride and forward with determination. As my father famously said, the arc of the moral universe is long. But together, we can continue to bend it toward justice.