As Obama Is Sworn In for a Second Term, African-Americans Question His Agenda

Hazel Trice Edney


From New America Media and




President Barack Obama is set to use the Bibles of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Abraham Lincoln for his second swearing on January 21, no doubt symbolizing his pride as the nation’s first Black president.


The symbolic move also aligns his principles with the principles of the two most transformational leaders in American history as it relates to African-American people. Despite the noble symbolism, the country is abuzz about exactly what President Obama will do as African-Americans continue to suffer disparately.


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s actual birthday was celebrated on January 15 and will be observed on the national holiday on Monday, January 21, which is also Inauguration Day. As more than a million people are expected to attend inaugural celebrations in D.C. and millions more will watch around the world, neither the President nor leading Democrats have publicly mentioned his most faithful constituents, whose votes for him surpassed 95 percent in both elections.


Marc Morial, who convened a summit of African-American leaders in November and released an African-American agenda, has not spoken publicly about the agenda since then. Neither has Dr. Ron Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World - 21st Century, who convened the State of the Black World Conference in November to discuss the state of the African-American community going into Obama’s second term.


Meanwhile, President Obama’s cabinet picks are appearing to lack diversity.


So far, the President has confirmed appointment of four of 15 new cabinet members for the next four years. None are African-American.


Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), who replaced Congressman Emanuel Cleaver at the end of his chairmanship early this month, appears to be a lone voice as she has written a letter to the president actually recommending CBC members for the cabinet.


“As you consider candidates for your cabinet, it is with great privilege that I recommend Congressman Melvin Watt of North Carolina for the position of Secretary of Commerce and Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California for the position of Secretary of Labor,” Fudge wrote in a January 10 letter. “Congressman Watt and Congresswoman Lee are exceptionally well-qualified, proven candidates. It is without reservation that I urge you to consider strongly this recommendation. I am available at your convenience should you desire further information.”


Earlier this month Obama announced his nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) as secretary of Defense; White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew as Treasury secretary; Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security John Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency; and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as secretary of state, which is third in line to the presidency.


Eric Holder will remain attorney general and Kathleen Sebelius will remain secretary of Health and Human Services. Other cabinet secretaries could be replaced.


Cabinet appointments are just one way a president can demonstrate diversity. The other way is influencing or establishing public policies that disparately affect various minority groups. President Obama has done so in the cases of women; GLBTs (gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals and transgendered Americans); Latinos and veterans.


Dr. King said at the August 28, 1963 March on Washington that his dream was that his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” While no one questions the president's principles in that regard, many hope his using the King Bible stacked on top of the Lincoln Bible for the swearing in might mean double sensitivity to activity on behalf of African-Americans.


The official swearing in on the January 20 date required by the Constitution, will take place in a private ceremony on Sunday. On that day, Obama will use the family Bible of First Lady Michelle Obama.


The black leather Bible he will lay his hand upon in the second swearing in next Monday was carried by Dr. King as a “traveling Bible” as he spoke from state to state on civil and voting rights for African-American people. Obama used the Lincoln Bible in 2009. It had not been used since Lincoln’s 1861 swearing in, just before the start of the Civil War.


Monday’s ceremonial swearing in will kick off a week of festivities, including balls, forums and panels to discuss the issues ahead. At the post-election black leadership conference called by Morial, he laid out the situation on behalf of dozens of black organizational heads who stood alongside him.


“Millions of African-Americans are still reeling in the wake of the great recession and trying to regain their footing after overwhelming losses in wealth, income and security,” Morial read.


The Rev. Al Sharpton, also at the conference, promised that the group would hold the president accountable. Now that Inauguration Day is here, the jury is out whether black organizational heads will hold the president accountable with sincerity and fervor despite their promises to do so.


“We believe that it is the responsibility of those that offer leadership to push the envelope forward. We cannot sit and ask the president to write an agenda to himself from us. It ought to come from us to him or the Congress from us to [them],” said Sharpton. “It is in that spirit a half-century later we come to say that we’ll work together, we’ll come together and try to set an agenda that will alleviate the economic, electoral, as well as criminal justice disparities that yet plague our community a half century later. We have made a lot of progress in 50 years, but we’re nowhere where we need to be. We are closer, but we have not arrived.”


Conscious that African-Americans have yet to arrive, the King family is hoping the ceremonial swearing in on the Bible of their father will help the president remain focused on the goal of racial equality.


“We hope it can be a source of strength for the president as he begins his second term,” the King family said in a written statement. “We join Americans across the country in embracing this opportunity to celebrate how far we have come, honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., through service, and rededicate ourselves to the work ahead.”


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