In 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. appeared on a BBC news show. The host asked King about Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s prediction, an audacious one at the time, that a black man could be elected president in 40 years.
King thought it would not take that long: “There are certain problems and prejudices and mores in our society which make it difficult now. However, I am very optimistic about the future. Frankly, I have seen certain changes in the United States over the last two years that surprise me. … On the basis of this, I think we may be able to get a Negro president in less than 40 years. I would think that this could come in 25 years or less.”
It took 44 years.
The day after the election of President Barack Obama front-page stories in newspapers all over the country, including The New York Times, quoted black parents saying things like, “For the first time in my life I can truly look my child in the eye and say, yes, you could become president someday.”
A tearful Jesse Jackson said he never thought he would see the day. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a civil rights leader who marched with Dr. King, said: “I feel very grateful that I’m still here to be here during this unbelievable historic moment in our country. This is a day of thanksgiving, a night of celebration. … It’s unbelievable that we have come such a distance in such a short time, to see a young African-American man elected president of the United States.”
It’s difficult to overstate the significance of the election of President Barack Obama.
As recently as the 1950s, polls showed that the majority of Americans said they would never vote for a black person for president, no matter how qualified. But in 2007, then-Sen. Obama, speaking at a historically black church in Alabama on the 42nd anniversary of the Selma march, talked about our country’s great progress in race relations. America, according…