Obama accepts nomination, rocks Mile High
Rocky Mountain News
Thursday night, on a date symbolic of both the worst and the best of recent life for African-Americans, a black man stood in a football stadium in Denver and made history, accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for president.
Barack Obama’s moment came exactly 53 years after two Mississippi men murdered a black teenager for whistling at a white girl, and exactly 45 years after Martin Luther King Jr. dared to dream of a world where people would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
It came with two of King’s children inside Invesco Field at Mile High, and with brown and black faces in every section of the stands.
But the night wasn’t just about the past. It was also about pomp and politics and Obama’s call for change.
And long before Obama himself turned the focus to King, he took aim at his rival, presumed Republican nominee John McCain, attacking him on his ties to President Bush, on tax policy, on energy, on health care, on equal pay for women, on his basic understanding of the situation many Americans find themselves in.
“For over two decades, he’s subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy ” give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else,” Obama said. “In Washington, they call this the ‘ownership society,’ but what it really means is ” you’re on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps ” even if you don’t have boots. You’re on your own.
“Well, it’s time for them to own their failure. It’s time for us to change America.”
Obama’s big night in the big stadium had been seen by some as a risk.
And earlier in the day, he had slipped in a side door at the Denver Athletic Club to play a game of good-luck basketball with his personal aide, Reggie Love, something they’d done all through the campaign on days that featured a primary or a caucus.
The night turned out as only his advisers could have dreamed. A huge crowd ” roughly 80,000 in all ” at times frenzied, at times rapt. Perfect weather. Fluttering American flags for the television cameras.
Out on the Colfax viaduct south of Invesco Field, roughly 200 people gathered along the sidewalk, shouting and pointing after they caught a glimpse of Obama on the big screens nestled into the upper corners of the stadium.
Even the timing of the final night of the convention offered him a rare opportunity to make a statement about the country’s journey to come to grips with racial divisions. The final day of the Democratic National Convention was put on the calendar for Aug. 28 before Obama even launched his candidacy.
It is a date that, for many black Americans, is seared with emotions ” outrage and pride, heartbreak and hope.
On Aug. 28, 1955, in Money, Miss., two white men kidnapped Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who whistled at a white girl. The men beat Till, gouged out one of his eyes, shot him in the head, tied a cotton gin fan to his neck with barbed wire and hurled his body into the Tallahatchie River. A jury acquitted them, but the incident galvanized the civil rights movement, then in its infancy.
Eight years later, on Aug. 28, 1963, King stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial before 200,000 people and looked ahead to a day when the dynamic would be different.
“I have a dream,” King said that day, “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident ” that all men are created equal. … I have a dream that 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.”
And on Aug. 28, 2008, Barack Obama became the first black man to accept a major political party’s presidential nomination.
“You never thought it would happen in your lifetime,” said Lorretta Johnson, 68, a delegate from Maryland who grew up in segregated Baltimore.
The evening began, in earnest, with three people intimately woven into King’s life ” U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon and the last living speaker from that 1963 March on Washington, King’s daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, and son, Martin Luther King III.
“For those of us who stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, or who in the years that followed may have lost hope, this moment is a testament to the power and vision of Martin Luther King Jr.,” Lewis said. “It is a testament to the ability of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our history.
“It is a testament to the promise of America.”
King’s daughter recalled one of her father’s lines from that 1963 speech.
“Tonight freedom rings,” she said. “From the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado, freedom rings. Forty-five years ago today, my father delivered his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech. Tonight we witness, in part, what has become of his dream ” the acceptance by Sen. Barack Obama of the presidential Democratic nomination, decided not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.”
At 8:11 p.m., Obama walked across the blue-carpeted stage toward the microphone and his date with history.
He drew a picture of his uniquely American story, where the son of a man from Kenya and a woman from Kansas could reach for the White House.
“It is that promise that has always set this country apart,” Obama said.
He drove home, again and again, the theme that has dominated his campaign ” change.
“Change happens because the American people demand it ” because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time,” he said. “America, this is one of those moments.”
Obama ticked off items from his agenda. Tax cuts for “working families” and companies that create jobs. Development of natural gas reserves, clean coal technology, and nuclear power. Health care for all that is accessible and affordable. On each subject, he took a swing at McCain.
Obama made only one veiled reference to his own race.
“I realize that I am not the likeliest candidate for this office,” Obama said from a stage backed by Greek columns. “I don’t fit the typical pedigree, and I haven’t spent my career in the halls of Washington.
“But I stand before you tonight because all across America something is stirring. What the nay-sayers don’t understand is that this election has never been about me. It’s been about you.”
Then he turned to that day 45 years ago when King stood at the Lincoln Memorial, referring to him as a “young preacher from Georgia.”
“The men and women who gathered there could’ve heard many things,” Obama said. “They could’ve heard words of anger and discord. They could’ve been told to succumb to the fear and frustrations of so many dreams deferred. But what the people heard instead ” people of every creed and color, from every walk of life ” is that in America, our destiny is inextricably linked. That together, our dreams can be one.
“‘We cannot walk alone,’ the preacher cried. ‘And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.'”
Out in the stadium, the faithful celebrated, some in stunned silence, as the speech ended.
“This is the defining moment of my lifetime,” said Anthony Graves, 32, of Denver.
Obama’s wife, Michelle, and their daughters joined them on the stage, and fireworks shot into the sky. Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, and his wife, Jill, joined them, and red-white-and-blue streamers exploded behind them.
Obama’s daughters, 7-year-old Sasha and 10-year-old Malia, bounced around, trying to catch star-shaped flakes falling from the sky, tossing confetti. Malia picked up a long blue strand of paper as her father walked toward her. He gave her a knowing look, with a slight, winking smile.
Then he headed toward a fall campaign that could land him in the White House.
Staff writers Sara Burnett, Lynn Bartels, M.E. Sprengelmeyer and Ryan Sabalow contributed to this report.
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