In 1948, then-US president Harry Truman ended military racial segregation. The Supreme Court knocked down decades of legal segregation in the Brown vs Board of Education decision. We won a big victory in 1955 with the Montgomery bus boycott, after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person, leading to the end of segregation by 1964. We won the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, ending discrimination at elections. We staged the anti-Vietnam war protests. From 1948 to 2008, there were 60 years of victories: overcoming obstacles, removing walls, pulling down barriers. Obama comes out of that process. He is a result of the years of struggle. He is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. He ran a fast, able leg of the race we are in. He is a member of a team.
So has the issue of race in US politics been transformed for all time? Absolutely not. The forces of hostility have in a strange way been reinvigorated, their fears have been revived, their anger has been rekindled, the mean spirits have resurged. The US has a deep-seated commitment to unfounded racial fears and, win or lose, those fears will not go away.
There are attempts to take the civil rights victories back. Our opponents are fighting the civil war of 1865. They are trying to pit states’ rights against a more perfect union, the federal government. If Obama loses, they will be empowered to undermine years of work. If Romney wins and puts right-wingers on the Supreme Court, the courts could rule to undermine the entire movement made by King. Who appoints the next Supreme Court justices will determine the next 50 years of the US.
The scale of Obama’s achievement is not just a matter of his complexion, but the direction in which he has tried to take the country. He has done a huge amount, but a unified US could have achieved twice as much. Instead, the Republicans have been planning how to make him a one-term president since the time of his inauguration in January 2009. Their mission was not about job creation, bank reconstruction or to revive manufacturing. Their mission was not to rebuild. Their mission was at all costs to undermine his authority.
If Obama wins, conservative right-wingers will not stop fighting ideologically. We must maintain our struggle to prevail. We need to keep taking the nation forward by hope and never backward by fear. We need to keep hope alive.
The Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr is the president and founder of the Rainbow Push Coalition.