January 20th, 2009, a day that I shall remember… In this month, two goals that I have had my doubts about ever reaching have come to pass. On January tenth, I turned six-five years old. Having survived twenty years in the Navy with depth charge and torpedo attacks, near misses on airplanes, Viet Nam, and driving on the highways of the United States – I am here to witness the election and inauguration of a man of color to the Presidency of the United States.
I was born in New Orleans at Charity hospital to a Mother and Father that were trying to survive in the midst of World War II. My Father was stationed in the Aleutian Islands where his unit repelled an attack by the Japanese. My Mother was working at one of the factories that supported the war effort; I spent most of every day in the care of my maternal grandmother. My parents wanted the best for me from the day I was born… as soon as I was able to do so, my Mother enrolled my in school – I was four years old.
My parents bought a house by the time that I was six years old. We lived in a neighborhood that was surrounded by whites on two sides. I grew up with neighbors that were exceedingly warm and receptive to our having built a house just across the street from them. I never heard the word ‘n.…r’ in addressing me until I was twenty years old and far from home. I also learned just how much I hate that word and how easy it was for me to demonstrate my anger upon hearing it.
Growing up in New Orleans was easy as long as Negros didn’t test the envelope. You couldn’t drink from the white fountain, swim in the city pool, nor could you sit any where you wanted to on the bus. This was an accepted thing and no one questioned it. Many restrictions have been placed on American Blacks in my lifetime. I once had an African man tell me that I had no country and after a moment of thought, I realized that he was telling the truth – it hurt me more than the ‘n’ word could ever have hurt. Anger never rose in my chest at what he had said – I was deflated, defeated, and demoralized without him even having spit on me. I didn’t have a home, a country, a place to call mine. I was in the United States Navy on my first tour of duty.
I renewed my efforts to be the best that I could be. I sought and received promotion after promotion, reaching First Class in less than five years in service. Along the way I convinced a few people that using the ‘n’ word to describe me, defame me, or anything close to that was grounds for getting your butt beat unmercifully. I was on a mission to prove to America, and anyone else that had less than admirable thoughts about Blacks that I was more than just a Negro man – I was a Black man with the ability to contribute, and yet few know about the contributions of Blacks, nor the significance of those contributions.
I began to see changes in the way Blacks were treated in service. I noticed the changes in how the people of America were thinking when the Governor-elect of Virginia, Douglas Wilder, a Black man, took office in a Southern State, when Stokes became Mayor of a large metropolitan city. Soon, New York was doing the same thing, and then it became a common thing for Blacks to achieve elective office. Life in these United States was changing, but I never thought that a Black man, a true African-American would ever attain the office of President of these United States of America.
Today, the country that I proudly swore I would give my life for as a member of the United States Navy, the country that put a man on the Moon, the country that sixty years ago treated Negroes as sub-humans, the most powerful nation in the world has elected a Black man to its highest office. The most powerful man in the world is Black! I am overwhelmed. I am beside myself with joy! I am grateful for a progressive America! I am more than proud that I am a Black man, born in the USA!
President Obama takes the oath of office…