What I thought about most watching the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama as the forty-fourth president of the United States of America was what it must have been like to have been a 72 year old black man in the crowd in DC - someone who grew up in the South.
Consider. He was born in 1936 in Mississippi where there were well over 500 lynchings between 1882 and 1968. Maybe his grandfather was a slave. Both the mayor of his town and the sheriff belonged to the Klu Klux Klan - nice enough if you didn't cross them, but he knew they met and wore the white sheets.
He was 18 in 1954 when the U.S. Supreme Court declared school segregation unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education.
And the next year, he cheered, but quietly, when Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a Montgomery, Alabama, bus as required by city ordinance.
But when he was 20 the Coalition of Southern congressmen called for massive resistance to Supreme Court desegregation rulings and 21 when the Arkansas Governor used the National Guard to block nine black students from attending a Little Rock School.
At the age of 24 he followed the news as four black college students staged a sit-in at lunch counter of a Greensboro, North Carolina, Woolworth's restaurant.
His next year was the year the Freedom Rides began from Washington, D.C., into Southern states.
And not that things weren't ugly before, but in 1962 President Kennedy had to send in federal troops to the University of Mississippi so that the school's first black student could attend, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation was unconstitutional in all transportation facilities, and the the Department of Defense ordered full integration of military reserve units (excepting the National Guard).
When he was 27, starting to make a living for his kids, getting by, following things on the news, Civil rights leader Medgar Evers, a fellow Mississippian, was killed by a sniper. His killer would escape conviction until 1994 because two all-white juries could not reach a verdict. But as the song says that man, Byron de la Beckwith, "was only a pawn in their game."
That same year Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech to the assembled at the March on Washington. (Where a musician I have a certain soft-spot for also performed.) Maybe that 72 year old man in the crowd today made the trip there 45 years ago, too. Who knows.
But that was also the year that the Klu Klux Klan bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, leaving four little girls dead; and the year, of course, that John F. Kennedy, a leading advocate for Civil Rights legislation, was assassinated in Dallas.
Then in 1964, at the age of 28, this man saw Congress pass the Civil Rights Act declaring discrimination based on race illegal - after 75-day long filibuster.
But then in his own back yard, three civil rights workers disappeared in Mississippi after being stopped for speeding. Their bodies were found buried six weeks later. State prosecutors refused to try the case, so the federal government stepped in. After several of the men were convicted on federal conspiracy charges, the judge sentenced them to a variety of sentences from three to ten years, saying, "They killed one n_____, one Jew, and a white man. I gave them all what I thought they deserved."
He was 29 when he listened to the news of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, of Malcolm X's death, and the riots in Watts.
Then gradually ... in 1966 Massachusetts elected the first black U.S. senator in 85 years. In 1967 Thurgood Marshall became the first black to be named to the Supreme Court and Cleveland, Ohio and Gary, Indiana elected the first black mayors of major U.S. cities.
In his 33rd year, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
He was my age when Atlanta elected the first black mayor of a major Southern U.S. city but he had to wait until he was 53 to see the first black governor elected, L. Douglas Wilder of Virgina.
What must it have felt like for that man, standing in the crowd today, to watch a black man, Barack Obama, sworn in to the most powerful political office in the world?