The civil rights struggle was America's chance to resolve the contradictions inherent in its birth. And at its roots, it was a legal struggle, pitting the natural law that underpins our Constitution and Declaration of Independence against unjust laws on the books that fell far short of that ideal.
The Founding Fathers didn't mean me when they wrote the Bill of Rights. But by their terms, those rights were universal in theory, and you can trace the history of the civil rights era in the court filings of lawyers arguing that they should be universal in fact. The civil rights struggle was in a very real way America's second founding.
It also made real one of America's greatest gifts to the world: the promise of multi-ethnic democracy. We live in an age where too often difference is still seen as a license to kill. That's what terrorism is grounded in, whether it be terrorism in the Middle East or here in America. Growing up in Birmingham, I lived with home-grown terrorism. I remember the bombing 40 years ago of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that took the lives of four young girls, including my friend Denise McNair.
Acts of terror are calculated to propel old fears into the next generation. America's diversity is a powerful rejoinder to that state of mind. Can the world forge a common future based not on ethnicity but on a commitment to an ideal, a commitment to democracy? A future where people get ahead based on ability, not on circumstances of birth.
In America, we say, "Yes we can." Our democracy is still a work in progress, not a finished product. The hard work begins anew each day. Yes, we practise what we preach, but 225 years after the fact we are still practising; practising each day to get it right.Reuse content