U.S. President Barack Obama will pay tribute to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by swearing in on the Bible of the late civil rights leader when he takes the oath of office in Washington for his second term on Monday, January 21. The date is a federal holiday marking King’s birthday.
It’s one of two Bibles that will be used for Obama’s swearing in. He will also place his left hand for the second time on the Bible used by former president, Abraham Lincoln. Obama took the oath on that Bible four years ago, marking the first time it had been used since Lincoln’s inauguration in 1861.
Lincoln, America’s 16th president, signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 that freed most of America’s four million slaves.
In the keynote address at the Federation of Adventist Youth’s (FAY) 14th annual celebration last Saturday night to observe Dr. King’s birthday, Oakwood University president, Dr. Leslie Pollard, said it’s fitting that Lincoln and King’s names are inextricably linked to the 57th presidential inauguration.
“We are talking about Lincoln who set Blacks free physically and King who set Blacks free mentally, Lincoln who united a nation and King who redeemed a nation, Lincoln who ended a violent war over injustice and King who launched a non-violent war for justice, Lincoln who emancipated a nation and King who elevated a nation,” said Pollard, the 11th president of the historically Black Seventh-day Adventist university which was established in 1896 in Huntsville, Alabama.
“Obama will take the oath of office in the presence of both Lincoln and King because someone before him dared to dream. I wonder where all of those who opposed the young dream master called Martin are. Where are the Eugene “Bull” Connors (he directed the use of fire hoses and police attack dogs against peaceful demonstrators in Alabama), George Wallace (the former Alabama governor was the embodiment of resistance to the civil rights movement) and Strom Thurmond (the U.S. senator vehemently opposed civil rights legislation)? History has effectively cast them aside, but with each passing year, King’s legacy grows.”
Lincoln’s Bible is part of the Library of Congress collection while King’s King James Version was his “travelling Bible” used for inspiration and preparing sermons and speeches.
King’s daughter, Bernice, said her father marked his Bible’s pages with several dates from May 1954, the same month he delivered his first sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
“We know our father would be deeply moved to see President Obama take the oath of office using his Bible,” said King’s children in a statement issued by the Presidential Inauguration Committee. “His travelling Bible inspired him as he fought for freedom, justice and equality and we hope it can be a source of strength for the president as he begins his second term.”
Obama will become the fourth president to use two Bibles following Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon.
At a private swearing in ceremony on Sunday, Obama will take the oath of office on the Robinson family Bible. It was a gift from First Lady Michelle Obama’s father, Fraser Robinson III, to his mother – LaVaughn Delores Robinson – on Mother’s Day in 1958. The family matriarch was the first African-American female manager of a Moody Bible Institute’s bookstore and she used the Bible regularly.
Pollard, who along with his Jamaican-born wife, Dr. Prudence Pollard, have been invited to the inauguration ceremony, said the best way Canadians can honour King is by finding a cause and standing for it.
“Like Dr. King, find something to stand for and then stand strong,” he said.
The Black Business & Professional Association (BBPA) and the Educational Foundation for Children’s Care Canada (EFCCC) collaborated with the FAY to organize this year’s MLK celebrations that brought together inspirational speakers and outstanding musical talent.
Ontario Conference of Seventh-day Adventist Church president, Dr. Mansfield Edwards, said he was deeply moved by a recent visit to the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan.
“I was there to look at the evolution of transportation and discovered that there is a section on Black History,” said Mansfield, chaplain of the York Region Police Service and former pastor of the Apple Creek Seventh-day Adventist Church. “I have forgotten much of the stages of transportation’s evolution, but I will not forget sitting in the Black History section with tears streaming down my face as I listened to speech after speech of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and saw on the screen the injustices he spoke against and those he experienced before leaving the room to sit in the bus that Rosa Parks was arrested in.
“I reflected on his dream, reflected on his experiences and came away understanding that there is tremendous power in a life lived based on Biblical principles, there is precious limit to the influence of one who submits himself to Christ and lives consistently and passionately on the word of God and that the church is present at all the significant intersections of the history of Black people.”
Toronto and York region police Deputy Chiefs, Mark Saunders and Tom Carrique, respectively and Jamaica’s Consul General, George Ramocan, brought greetings while the province’s Consumer Services Minister, Margarett Best, delivered a message from Premier Dalton McGuinty.
“Dr. King was a remarkable man and each and every one of us only serve to benefit by learning more about his life, his struggles and his triumphs,” said McGuinty.
Last Saturday night’s celebration also featured a refection by 16-year-old Justice Iris, the Rashaan Allwood All-star band, the MLK Litaneers, poets/lyricists David Record and the Twaambo duet, saxophonist Dave McLaughlin and In His Name, Hands of Blessing, Rexdale Outreach, Apple Creek Youth and Oakwood University’s Dynamic Praise choirs.
One of the highlights of the celebrations in the United States to mark King’s birthday is the Martin Luther King Day of Service that was started by former Pennsylvania Senator, Harris Wofford and Atlanta Congressman, John Lewis, who co-authored the King Holiday and Service Act.
The federal legislation challenges Americans to transform the King Holiday into a day of citizen volunteer service in King’s honour. The legislation was signed into law by former president, Bill Clinton, on August 23, 1994. Since 1996, the annual Greater Philadelphia King Day of Service has been the largest event in the U.S. honouring the former civil rights leader.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929, King inspired, encouraged and empowered people from diverse backgrounds, races, religions and creeds to achieve greater racial equality, opportunities and justice. He also challenged them to use peaceful and non-violent methods to focus on and attain civil rights.
King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 while in Memphis to support sanitary workers and their boycott against companies with unfair hiring practices.
The U.S. national holiday commemorating King’s birthday was enacted in 1993.