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June 6, 2008

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal.

I never thought we'd see this in my lifetime. When I was growing up in the segregated south the Democratic Party was the bastion of white male supremacy. The inequality of the races was a given, God-ordained and immutable. Women were okay, as long as they kept to their place. And now look what's happened. A black man and a white woman battled each other to the wire for the nomination by a party that turned itself upside down, inside out, and around in my lifetime. Barack Obama was born the year John F. Kennedy took the oath of office as President of the United States.

JOHN F. KENNEDY: I, John Fitzgerald Kennedy do solemnly swear. . .

BILL MOYERS: At his inauguration, I stood in the clear, cold weather and felt a shiver, not from the weather, but from the hint of things to come. Two years later, Obama was a toddler, and I was 27, and there was Kennedy on television proposing a civil rights bill to end the awful discrimination enforced on black people throughout America's history. It was 45 years ago next week — June 11, 1963 — and the President asked, "Are we to say to the world — and much more importantly to each other — that this is the land of the free, except for the Negroes; that we have no second-class citizens, except Negroes; that we have no class or caste system, no ghettoes, no master race, except with respect to Negroes."

JOHN F. KENNEDY: The Negro baby born in America today, regardless of the section of the State in which he is born, has about one-half as much chance of completing a high school as a white baby born in the same place on the same day, one-third as much chance of completing college, one-third as much chance of becoming a professional man, twice as much chance of becoming unemployed. . .

BILL MOYERS: Tragically, Kennedy was assassinated as Congress was still battling over his civil rights bill and Lyndon Johnson was thrust into the White House. I went with him and saw Johnson take up the cause. Martin Luther King marched, and Lyndon Johnson maneuvered, and on the 2nd of July in 1964 the President signed the Civil Rights Act into law. The fight wasn't over; he knew it. The President told me, "I think we've just handed the South to the Republican Party for the rest of my life — and yours." Sure enough, the backlash was so bitter, and the Republican Party, once the party of Lincoln, so exploited it, that I figured this country would have a serious woman candidate for President long before any person of African descent. As the choice came down this year to one or the other, is one of those shifts that democracy and history take when we least suspect it.

BARACK OBAMA: Because of you, tonight I can stand before you and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.

BILL MOYERS: Now, the young African American man whose very life defies the grim odds laid out by President Kennedy, will become the nominee of the party that once embodied white supremacy. Whether you like Obama or not, whether you intend to vote for him or not, America has just made another great turn away from the fierce grip of a savage past. Stay tuned.

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