Wednesday, November 05, 2008

November 4, 2008

I have assiduously avoided politics in this blog, except when political philosophy touches upon science, and those who comment here have shown similar restraint. But allow me -- with you -- a few thoughts on the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States.

I grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the 1940s and 1950s. I remember the Ku Klux Klan burning a cross on a neighbor's lawn one dark night (I don't know the reason; I have a vague memory it was the home of a judge who made a decision favorable to a black). No black person was allowed to enter a white theater, restaurant, swimming pool, public park, or place of worship, and all schools were segregated (and unequal). It was simply unthinkable that a black might hold political office. A black man of any age was called "boy."

There was no overt racism in my family, although for a while we did have a black maid who came to the house a few times a week and worked for a pittance and bus money. I don't recall racist talk in my white-only parochial schools. It was simply assumed that blacks and whites lived in separate worlds.

As a teen I worked as a stack boy in the Chattanooga Public Library. The white staff ate lunch in a nice lunch room. The black janitorial staff -- men and women -- ate their brown bag lunches on the back steps of the library. Somehow I came to realize that the conversation was more interesting and friendlier on the back steps, and took to eating with the blacks -- possibly a presumptuous intrusion on my part, but those good people accepted me with grace. Their company was an awakening.

Americans of every political persuasion can be enormously proud. There were a lot of tears shed Tuesday night, here and around the world, some of them mine. They were overwhelmingly tears of joy.