Noel Leo Erskine: A Mandela Moment

Forty-five years after King’s “I Have A Dream” speech and forty years after his assassination, the United States of America has elected Barack Obama , its first black president. His election has ushered in a new era in the history of the United States.

In many ways, it is not a “King moment” but a “Mandela moment,” because Obama has dared to go where King was not able to dream. I would not contend that the struggles and victories of the modern civil rights movement did not lay the foundation for this extraordinary accomplishment. The sacrifices of Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, and countless others paved the way for the evolution of a new America. But something new has happened in the election of Barack Obama. There is a generational shift. If Dr. King symbolizes Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, Barack Obama symbolizes Joshua leading the children of Israel into the Promised Land. It is reported that President-elect Obama sees himself as representing the “Joshua generation,” which is concerned not only with civil but with economic rights for all of God’s children.

With 43 percent of whites, 60 percent of Latinos/Latinas, and over 90 percent of blacks voting for President-elect Obama, he has put together a new coalition of diversity that changes the face of America. The face of America is not that of “Joe the Plumber.” It is a new America in which diversity is the badge we all may wear proudly.

The election of President-elect Obama has made a great country even greater, and the world once again looks to America for leadership. All of us are invited to pray for America, the world, and our new president.

–Noel Leo Erskine is associate professor of theology and ethics at Emory University.