Barack Obama’s inauguration prompted the shedding of many tears—most by Americans ecstatic at seeing a day they never thought would come, and some, no doubt, by the relative few who feared the day a black man would arrive as master of the White House.
Bright, talented, graceful, and supremely self-confident, Obama has vindicated all the efforts of King, Randolph, Rustin, Marshall, Wilkins, Lewis, Jackson, and the myriad others of lesser fame who marched, protested, sat-in, freedom-rode, and litigated so that the walls of segregation might come tumbling down. But he has also vindicated Warren and Johnson—especially Johnson—and Powell and O’Connor and untold others who legislated and implemented and adjudicated away segregation, and enforced policies that allowed people like the new president and his wife and thousands of others to acquire the kind of education that their forebears were denied.
And so, now that the United States has its first black president, what next?
Obviously it doesn’t mean the end of racial politics as we’ve come to know it. The machinations that led to Roland Burris’s appointment to replace Obama as junior senator from Illinois demonstrated that. It was, after all, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) who first played “the race card” publicly, but his play was set up by the disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Many white politicians, no less than...