Tragic Four To Transformative Two
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
WNYC Guest Blogger: Robert George
Trite song lyrics say, 'The children are our future.' For the civil rights movement, children were present-day symbols of hope for a people -- and, yes, a country.
Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of a world where, '[my] 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.' That was August of 1963.
Less than a month later, many wondered whether such hopes and dreams were hopelessly naive, when a quiet Sunday morning was shattered by a bomb placed in Birmingham's Sixteenth Street Baptist church -- a black church. Killed were four other children -- girls between the ages of 11 and 14 -- Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins -- were there for Sunday school.
But one month after pointing to his children as symbols of hope, King was delivering eulogies for other children. Such were the stop-start aspects of the civil rights movement --momentary inspiration followed by unspeakable horror. Even though it took decades to bring the individual perpetrators to justice, the sheer inhumanity of the act -- bombing a house of worship and killing innocents, created justice of a different sort: Scores of middle-of-the-road white Americans -- previously indifferent to the movement -- began to see the violence that Jim Crow represented.
Thus, the deaths of the four little girls (which became the title of an Oscar-nominated documentary by Spike Lee) turned out not to be in vain.
Americans today will see an image, that will have nearly as great a long-term impact as the sight of a black president: It's "two little girls." When Barack Obama's two daughters, Malia and Sasha, enter the White House, they will -- unwittingly or otherwise -- also be transformative figures. Younger than both Chelsea Clinton and the Bush twins, they, conjure memories of the last time there were two pre-teens in the White House -- Caroline and John Kennedy, Jr.
The Kennedy kids first captured the hearts of the country in cuteness (John-John hiding under his dad's desk) -- and in tragedy (saluting his father's coffin).
The images of Malia and Sasha don't have to be -- and, God help us won't be -- so emotionally extreme. However, the Kennedy kids have remained part of the American story long after JFK's passing. Today, Caroline is the perceived frontrunner-appointee to the US Senate from New York.
The nation gets both a new leader and a new First Family today -- one with young children who embody a different present and a different future for this country. So, go ahead and watch our new president and listen to his speech (I'll be doing that, yes); check out what Michelle will be wearing. But I'll be on the lookout for the awe and wonder in the eyes of two little girls as they take their spot on the American stage.