Republican leaders, stunned by the progressive themes woven throughout President Obama's poignant second inaugural address, called them "fighting words." Some African-American leaders agree, but prefer the term "call to action."
"For our people," said Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, "the message is that we've got to have a vision."
Those still figuring out what their dream is and how to shape their futures, he added, need only look at history, from the civil rights movement, when people were hosed down by police and unable to eat at certain restaurants, to now, when they've witnessed an African-American sworn in as president not once but twice.
"People need to explain the speech to their children and talk and write about what they felt when they heard it," he added.
"The most important thing is that we've got to instill the lessons of all of this in our children. What good is a dream of Martin Luther King if you don't have little Barack Obamas coming back," he said, citing the challenges many Black students today face earning high school diplomas, much less law school degrees.
Cummings, who fears for the future of young African-Americans, urged older generations to help young people "appreciate the moment" and help them achieve higher goals.
California Rep. Karen Bass agrees.
"What we have to realize, those of us who agree with and support him, is that we have a responsibility here. It's not just on him to bring about change. He needs the participation from everybody and I think that was a very clear part of his speech," she said.
George Mason University political scientist Michael Fauntroy was struck more by what he didn't hear, namely significant policy changes on some of the issues that most directly impact African-Americans. The next four years, he worries, will be more of the same.
"I'm willing to be won over. But I feel like we didn't get very much in the last four years. And I also believe that most Black folks are just glad to have a Black president and are not willing or prepared to push him and be rough with him if necessary to do the kinds of things that we claim to want done," Fauntroy said.
Robert Smith, a San Francisco State University professor, agrees.
"It was a liberal, progressive speech, universal in its theme and not talking directly to the problems of disadvantaged Black people or poor people at all except to say what I do to broaden the middle class will eventually help people struggling to get into the middle class," Smith said. "If he were going to change, this may have been the place to indicate that he has some concern and awareness about the bottom part of the population."
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(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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