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BLACK HISTORY : Our President Barack Obama: Hopes and Dreams Can Be Powerful

 

Much like Martin Luther King, Jr., President Barack Obama is a man for all people. He is humble yet confident; he is gracious yet firm; and he is a peacemaker in every situation. People from every continent love him.

He has been called a cultural icon, bringing hope where there is none. His election to the highest office in the world is a historic achievement that many of us thought would never happen. Thousands of martyrs have sacrificed,marched, protested, fought and died for equal rights in America, paving the way for anyone daring to push the limits of success.

The journey has been long for Barack, and even longer for BlackAmericans as a whole. What began on a hot day on the West Coast of Africa some four centuries ago in packed-to-capacity slave ships, culminated on a cold morning on the East Coast of America in our nation’s capitol.

Our history hopefully will inspire others.

It is on the shoulders of these giants that we stand. It is this history which we wish to chronicle.  

 

BLACK HISTORY : 3 Parts

 

PART 1: 400 Years of "Yes We Can"

PART 2: President Obama

PART 3: Our Journey Continues

Barack Obama's Enduring Faith in America

In his farewell address, the president warned of threats to the nation’s tradition of democracy—none more than from inside—and rebuked Donald Trump, but sought to rally the country around shared ideals. In his final speech to the nation as the 44th president of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama offered a strong defense of American democracy and pluralism, telling the nation that its form of government relies on goodwill and tolerance.

“Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift,” Obama said. “But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power—with our participation, and the choices we make. Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law.  America is no fragile thing. But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.” 

The Obama Era

Speaking at McCormick Place in Chicago—just a couple miles south of Grant Park, where he first spoke to the nation as president-elect in November 2008—the president outlined his major accomplishments and thanked voters, his family, and his staff. But Obama also outlined what he saw as a three-pronged threat to American democracy, in a speech that could only be heard as a detailed rebuke of Donald Trump, the man who will replace him in the White House in 10 days’ time.

Obama has always enjoyed playing the role of social theorist, and he took one last opportunity to expound his theory from the bully pulpit. The litany of locations and events he mentioned mapped out his vision of a United States where people of color, women, and gay and lesbian Americans are not simply included but are indeed integral to the identity of the nation—from the founding to Western expansion, the Underground Railroad to “immigrants and refugees” who came across the sea and, pointedly, the Rio Grande, suffragettes to labor organizers, activists who fought for the civil rights of African Americans and LGBT Americans alike, and soldiers from Omaha Beach to Afghanistan.

“That’s what we mean when we say America is exceptional,” Obama said, perhaps settling a score with the critics who once claimed he did not believe in the idea, “not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change, and make life better for those who follow.”

Yet the nation is fraying, he cautioned. The president argued that the start of the 21st century, from 9/11 attacks to the Great Recession, and implicitly in Trump’s election, had threatened to “rupture [the] solidarity” on which the country rests. The threat came from three corners, he said: unequal economic opportunity; racism and discrimination; and the retreat into bubbles of likeminded individuals.

He warned that indulging fear would endanger a society ordered by Enlightenment ideals of reason, tolerance, and justice. “That order is now being challenged—first by violent fanatics who claim to speak for Islam; more recently by autocrats in foreign capitals who see free markets, open democracies, and civil society itself as a threat to their power,” Obama said. “The peril each poses to our democracy is more far-reaching than a car bomb or a missile.” He asked the nation to come together in the work of rebuilding American democracy.

“That’s what we mean when we say America is exceptional, not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change.”

But it is not just external threats such as these that pose a danger, he said—so does the temptation to shut out those with different outlooks. “For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or college campuses or places of worship or our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions,” Obama said, connecting it to the advent of a media that is not only partisan but riddled with misstatements of fact—and a surfeit of maliciously false news. “We become so secure in our bubbles that we accept only information, whether true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that’s out there.”

Obama’s decision to deliver the farewell address before a crowd of adoring supporters represented a continuation of the style in which he campaigned, and the style he has preferred to govern. While most presidents have delivered their final speeches on camera from the White House, Obama has always disliked the Oval Office address, preferring to speak at a lectern in the East Room when he had to, and speak live before a crowd when he could, feeding from its energy.

Most farewell speeches also do not loom large in history. While outgoing presidents may hope that the addresses offer them a chance to shape and solidify their legacies, few are remembered after the fact—perhaps really only two: George Washington’s in 1796, and Dwight Eisenhower’s in 1961, in which he coined the term “the military-industrial complex.”

Obama’s farewell address was, like many of his major speeches, a finely crafted one; he is one of the finest orators and writers to occupy the office. But despite its emphasis on the ideals of the nation going back to the founding, it seemed inexorably linked to the present moment in American history. The speech seemed like a lecture for Trump on what makes America great and a pep talk for Obama’s supporters on the importance of keeping the faith.

“The work of democracy has always been hard. It’s always been contentious. For every two steps forward, It often feels we take one step back.”

“You were the change. You answered people’s hopes,” Obama said, recalling the two buzzwords of his first run for president. But he added: “Our progress has been uneven. The work of democracy has always been hard. It’s always been contentious. For every two steps forward, It often feels we take one step back.”

Obama didn’t have to mention Trump’s name for it to be clear to all who he was referring to. Nearly every paragraph in this speech seems to have a line that directly or indirectly answered Trump. He said that American “potential will only be realized if our democracy works. Only if our politics reflects the decency of the our people.” In a quasi-Marxist rejection of race in favor of class, he rejected the nativist claims of the Trump campaign, saying, “If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.” He warned that depriving children of immigrants would only backfire as they came to represent a larger portion of the workforce. The ties of society weaken, he said, “when we define some of us as more American than others; when we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt, and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.”

In what might have seemed improbable only a few a years ago, one of his biggest applause lines came in a simple restatement of the First Amendment principle of freedom of religion: “That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans.” On climate change, Obama warned Trump and other deniers, “Reality has a way of catching up with you.”

But Obama was not ready to let his own backers off the hook to slip into disconsolation. He called on them to engage with their fellow citizens, saying that while their faith would sometimes be disappointed, it would overall be affirmed. Early in his speech, he hailed the impending peaceful transfer of power to Trump, and scolded members of the crowd who booed or groaned.

As for the president, he was able to keep his composure through most of the speech. It was only in the last minutes of the address, as he thanked the first lady, his daughters, Vice President Joe Biden, and his staff, that the president’s face began to twitch, and he finally had to wipe away a tear. It seemed fitting that the emotional climax of the speech would come at that time—the president’s personal story, his confident and cheerful demeanor, have always been his strongest political asset. Even as his policy legacy teeters on the precipice of destruction, the president remains personally popular, and his decency and family remain widely admired.

And then Obama offered one more callback to his historic 2008 campaign. “Yes we can,” he said. “Yes we did.” And then, once more for the future: “Yes we can.” But will we? At a time when many Americans of all views are more dubious than ever about that proposition, and despite his dire warnings minutes earlier, Obama seemed just as stunningly, serenely confident as he had eight years ago.

“That faith I placed all those years ago, not far from here, in the power of ordinary Americans to bring about change—that faith has been rewarded in ways I couldn’t possibly have imagined,” he said. “I hope yours has, too.”

 

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Dylann Roof Sentenced To Death For Massacre Of Black Church Members

Dylann Roof, the avowed white supremacist who massacred nine black churchgoers at Bible study in 2015, was sentenced to death on Tuesday.

The jury deliberated for nearly three hours before announcing the decision. Roof is the first person to face execution for federal hate crime convictions.

Roof was convicted of the Charleston, South Carolina, killings last month, following six days of testimony. He was found guilty of 33 federal charges, from hate crimes to obstruction of the practice of religion, of which 17 carried the possibility of the death penalty.

On June 17, 2015, Roof walked into Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The historic black church, affectionately called Mother Emanuel, was hosting a Bible study that evening. The 21-year-old sat down with the parishioners for a while before pulling out a gun and firing.

He killed Susie Jackson, the Rev. Daniel Simmons, Ethel Lance, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Myra Thompson and the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the church.

Prosecutors argued in favor of the death penalty.

“They welcomed a 13th person that night ... with a kind word, a Bible, a handout and a chair,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson said during his closing argument at Roof’s sentencing on Tuesday. “He had come with a hateful heart and a Glock .45.”

Roof chose to represent himself during the punishment phase of his trial. He called no witnesses.

In his opening remarks to the court last week, Roof said there was nothing wrong with him “psychologically.” He had previously written in a journal that psychology was a “Jewish invention.”

“My opening statement is going to seem a little bit out of place,” Roof told jurors. “I am not going to lie to you. ... Other than the fact that I trust people that I shouldn’t and the fact that I’m probably better at constantly embarrassing myself than anyone who’s ever existed, there’s nothing wrong with me psychologically.”

A rainbow appears outside Mother Emanuel church on June 15, 2016, following a bible study.

Last year, following his arrest, Roof had spoken with FBI agents for two hours. Video played in court showed him admitting to his crimes.

“I am guilty,” he said. “We all know I’m guilty.”

He told agents he had killed nine innocent people because he believed that white Americans had become second-class citizens and that white women were being raped “daily” by black men.

In his closing argument on Tuesday, Roof stood by his decision to gun down the innocent churchgoers.

“I felt like I had to do it, and I still feel like I had to do it,” he told jurors.

He added that he could ask the jury to spare his life, but wasn’t sure “what good that would do.”

Roof’s family expressed condolences for those who were killed.

“We will always love Dylann,” the statement reads in part. “We will struggle as long as we live to understand why he committed this horrible attack, which caused so much pain to so many good people. We wish to express the grief we feel for the victims of his crimes, and our sympathy to the many families he has hurt.”

At a Bible study on the one-year anniversary of the killings, church member Thomas Rose prayed for those who had died. The 66-year-old was born inside Mother Emanuel and had left the church that night only about an hour before Roof began his slaughter.

“I still haven’t recovered,” Rose told The Huffington Post. “It’s just gonna take a while. I forgive the guy for doing what he did, but he took away [my family members]. That’s something I’ll never get over.”

 

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Viola Davis Gave a Moving Speech About Trump of Her Own at the Globes

Viola Davis.

Her friend Meryl Streep wasn’t the only celebrity who delivered an eloquent anti-Trump message Sunday night. Viola Davis is about as presidential a celebrity as they come. On Sunday, the actress won a best-supporting-actress Golden Globe for her role in Fences. She dedicated her acceptance speech to her father, Dan, who was “born in 1936, groomed horses, had a fifth-grade education, didn’t know how to read until he was 15 . . . [but] he had a story and it deserved to be told, and August Wilson told it.”

It was backstage in the press room, though, that the actress delivered some potent political words. There, she was asked about progress in America, a question clearly alluding to President-Elect Donald Trump (who was a heavy presence at this year’s awards show).

“I will, believe it or not, remove Trump from the equation. Because I feel that it's bigger than him,” Davis began. “I believe that it is our responsibility to uphold what it is to be an American. And what America is about, and the true meaning of what it means to pursue the American dream. I think that America in and of itself has been an affirmation, but I think that we've fallen short a lot, because there is no way that we can have anyone in office that is not an extension of our own belief system. So then what does that say about us? And I think that, if you answer that question, I think that that says it all.”

Later in the night, Davis introduced Meryl Streep, who was being honored with the annual Cecil B. DeMille Award. Davis, a former co-star and longtime friend of Streep's, delivered a sweet tribute to the actress: “She makes the most heroic characters vulnerable, the most known familiar, the most despised relatable. Dame Streep. Her artistry reminds us of the impact of what it means to be an artist, which is to make us feel less alone.”

Like Davis earlier in the night, Streep was in a political mood. She delivered a damning speech about Trump (without saying his name), calling out the time he mocked a disabled reporter. “It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie; it was real life.”

“Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence,” she continued. “When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

Trump, rather predictably, has already tweeted about Streep’s remarks, calling her an “over-rated actress” and a “Hillary flunky.” The world's smallest violin prepares a sonata in the background. (Don’t tell him what Davis said.)

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Sen. Cory Booker, Rep. John Lewis to testify against Jeff Sessions for attorney general

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Sen. Cory Booker will apparently make history this week when he testifies before the Judiciary Committee against Sen. Jeff Sessions' nomination for attorney general in hearings that begin Tuesday.

Booker's office said Monday that the Senate historian had been unable to find any previous instance of a sitting senator's testifying against a fellow sitting senator nominated for a Cabinet position.

Noting that "I'm breaking a pretty long Senate tradition," the New Jersey Democrat said Monday on MSNBC's "All In": "We've seen Jeff Sessions — that's Senator Jeff Sessions — consistently voting against or speaking out against key ideals of the Voting Rights Act, taking measures to try to block criminal justice reform."

"He has a posture and a positioning that I think represent a real danger to our country," Booker said.

In 1986, the Senate Judiciary Committee killed President Ronald Reagan's nomination of Sessions to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama after four former Justice Department colleagues testified that he had made racially offensive statements.

Sessions turned the rejection into a launchpad for his political career. He was elected attorney general of Alabama before being elected in 1996 to the U.S. Senate, where he is considered among the more conservative members.

Several other prominent African-American figures in addition to Booker also plan to testify against Sessions, R-Alabama, a former U.S. attorney and attorney general in Alabama, including two members of the House: Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, a leader of the civil rights movement of the 1960s; and Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-Louisiana, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The NAACP has also strongly opposed Sessions' nomination, calling him "a threat to desegregation and the Voting Rights Act."

The only African-American Republican senator, Tim Scott of South Carolina, said in a statement Monday that he would be supporting Session's nomination after placing "special emphasis" on the decision at a time of "racial and societal unrest like we have not seen in a generation."

Scott said after doing his own homework, working with Sessions for four years and meeting with him personally, that he had determined Sessions to be a "consistently fair person" who is committed to upholding the Constitution.

Sessions was Trump's earliest supporter in the Senate, where his fierce opposition to illegal immigration and skepticism toward legal immigration aligned with Trump's campaign message.

He has been criticized by numerous liberal and civil rights organizations, which cite his strong opposition to expansion of rights for gay and lesbian Americans, legalization of marijuana even for medical use, legal abortion, embryonic stem cell research and President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.

In his statement, Booker also singled out what he characterized as Sessions' opposition to "bipartisan criminal justice reform" and his "efforts earlier in his career to deny citizens voting rights."

"The Attorney General is responsible for ensuring the fair administration of justice, and based on his record, I lack confidence that Senator Sessions can honor this duty," Booker said.

 

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