For a little while on Wednesday, it was enough.
It was enough to hear civil rights hero John Lewis insist that this America is better than the one where his blood spilled for justice.
“Sometimes I hear people saying nothing has changed,” he said, “but for someone to grow up the way I grew up, in the cotton fields of Alabama, to now be serving in the United States Congress makes me want to tell them, ‘Come and walk in my shoes.'”
It was enough to watch the family of Martin Luther King Jr. gather around the bell that once hung in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. Less than three weeks after King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, three girls died in a bombing at that church.
“A Negro mother wept in the street Sunday morning in front of a Baptist Church in Birmingham,” Atlanta Constitution editor Eugene Patterson wrote in a column the next day. “In her hand she held a shoe, one shoe, from the foot of her dead child. We hold that shoe with her. Every one of us in the white South holds that small shoe in his hand.”
At 3 p.m., the King family rang that bell, and it was enough.
Then the first African-American president of the United States stood in the very spot where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. For a few minutes, it was enough to see him standing there. To hear his gratitude for the sacrifices that bore the fruit of his victory. To listen to him as he listed the kinds of Americans who refuse to give up on their country, on their fellow citizens.
“That tireless teacher who gets to class early and stays late and dips into her own pocket to buy supplies because she believes that every child is her charge — she’s marching,” he said.
“That successful businessman who doesn’t have to but pays his workers a fair wage and then offers a shot to a man, maybe an ex-con, who’s down on his luck — he’s marching.
“The mother who pours her love into her daughter so that she grows up with the confidence to walk through the same doors as anybody’s son — she’s marching.