Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Obama a marker on post-racial path

By Donna Brazile, CNN Contributor
updated 4:34 PM EST, Thu February 21, 2013
Donna Brazile says Black History Month is a time to note crossroads the nation has faced.
Donna Brazile says Black History Month is a time to note crossroads the nation has faced.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Donna Brazile: Black History Month themed crossroads, "tied to two pivotal U.S. events
  • Emancipation Proclamation, March on Washington were crossroads, she says
  • She says crossroad decisions are threaded along U.S. road to post-racial society
  • Brazile: We're not there yet, but re-election of Obama a harbinger

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking with Grease." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

(CNN) -- Politicians and historians love to use the word "crossroads."

It's become as American, and cliched, as "Mom's apple pie." The historian Shelby Foote, wrote, "The Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. ... It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads."

I have been thinking about the word, because this year's Black History Month theme is "At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington." Two pivotal events that shaped modern American history.

A "crossroads" is literally the intersection of two or more roads -- two or more paths to get to the same place. Metaphorically, it refers to the place -- the moment -- of a critical decision. Shall we go forward together? Shall we separate? Shall we fight?

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile

We mark history's crossroads not by road signs but by the documents that identify them. The Declaration of Independence is certainly one. Who has not memorized the opening of the second paragraph? "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

Political philosopher John Locke's original term was, "Life, liberty, and property." Thomas Jefferson borrowed the phrase, changing "property" to "the pursuit of happiness." He understood that "happiness" -- being significant -- was more important than property, and that a "right to property" too often meant a "right" to own someone else, i.e. slavery.

Locke rejected the "divine right of kings." He argued instead that God invested each person with an innate equality -- the right to be on this Earth and to be free -- free to pursue dreams. On the way to his first inauguration, Abraham Lincoln stopped at Independence Hall in Philadelphia to celebrate Washington's birthday. He told the assembled crowd, "I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence."

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Lincoln's issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 was another crossroads, one that required Lincoln, and the nation, to walk a long road of personal and national growth. "All men are created equal" had to take on a deeper meaning. Frederick Douglass, one of Lincoln's "guides" on his journey, later said the quality he most admired in Lincoln was his political courage.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis once acknowledged to an Atlantic Monthly writer that Lincoln's Emancipation resulted in the self-liberation of "two millions of our slaves."

A journey of a hundred years brought us to another crossroads -- the 1963 March on Washington. While "property in man" no longer existed, millions of Americans were unable to pursue their dream, or to live with full equality.

Honoring MLK through service
Students take on 'I Have a Dream'
Emancipation Proclamation turns 150
Obama: 'We are made for this moment'

James Farmer, a leading civil rights activist who was in jail in my home state of Louisiana, sent a message to the quarter-million in attendance that summer day, saying his people would not be free "until the dogs stop biting us in the South and the rats stop biting us in the North."

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, like the Declaration, resonates. It echoes through the years in the heartbeats of Americans. The "pursuit of happiness" is more than pleasure, for we often take great pains in the pursuit. Rather, the pursuit of happiness is the freedom to pursue our dreams, to make meaning in and find the unique significance of our lives.

That is something we can only do when, in the bonds of fellowship and shared history, we nurture our dreams. The caged bird sings of freedom, but the freed bird sings of dreams. Today, we are 150 years further down the road to realizing the American creed of equality and freedom. We reached a crossroads in 2008 with the election of our first African-American president. We chose to continue on the road to a "post-racial" society.

We're not there yet. But in 2012, when we could have chosen to travel down another road, one that led to further economic inequality, we chose instead to continue the realization of equality and freedom, and to the unfettered pursuit of dreams for each American.

In some ways, the re-election of President Obama is more significant than his election four years ago. I say this not because I'm a Democrat, but because this time, the dog-whistles of racism were called out and condemned by people of faith and goodwill on both sides of the aisle.

During the next four years, we'll come to more crossroads. I pray, and believe, we will take the road to freedom and equality for each child, man and woman in America.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
updated 12:40 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
updated 3:26 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT