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 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 9:02 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT