Charlie Crist: Dr. King would be proud

Published: Monday, January 19, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 18, 2009 at 4:25 p.m.

The eyes of the world are focused on our nation as our first African-American President is poised to take the oath of the highest office in our democracy. While the inauguration of any American President and the peaceful transition of our national leadership are admired around the globe, this event symbolizes much more for our country and for our people.

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Tomorrow, President Obama will stand on the steps of the United States Capitol just one day after the federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., our nation’s greatest civil rights leader. From those steps, he will look out over the National Mall and face reminders of our democracy’s noble history — the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

Some 45 years ago, Dr. King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and boldly called on America to erase the scars of segregation and reach across the racial divide. These structures represent our country’s beginnings, as well as its growth toward enlightened maturity during the past centuries.

This year also marks the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. As President, Lincoln embodied the greatness of America — though he did not live to see our nation’s approval of the 13th Amendment and the beginning of freedom of African-Americans.

In the inauguration of our nation’s next President, we fully embrace the truth on which our nation was founded and which Dr. King challenged us to make a reality — that all men are created equal.

While Florida’s history has at times included resistance to this ideal, I believe both President Lincoln and Dr. King would be proud of the progress we have made toward equality for all. They would applaud how Florida today has embraced diversity as one of her greatest strengths.

Across our state, many civil-rights era leaders helped pave the way, including Harry and Harriette Moore, of Mims, who were pioneering NAACP leaders; and the Rev. C.K. Steele, of Tallahassee, who led a boycott of the Tallahassee bus system.

More recently, I was honored to lead the way in changing Florida’s clemency rules, a vestige of the Jim Crow-era, to provide automatic restoration of civil rights for certain ex-offenders who have committed less severe non-violent crimes.

Most notably, last year, the Florida Legislature approved a resolution formally apologizing for Florida’s “shameful” history of slavery.

In taking this step, we became one of only six states to do so.

As Americans and Floridians, we should consider the inauguration of our nation’s first African-American President as an achievement that has resulted from generation after generation standing strong in the face of discrimination and inequality.

I believe both Dr. King and President Lincoln would be proud of our progress.

Charlie Crist is governor of Florida.

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