Obama seeks the rub of the Martin Luther King legacy

By agency reporter
September 3, 2008

As focus turns to the climax of the Republican convention and the choice of running mate by their candidate, war veteran John McCain, Democrat Barack Obama is turning his attention to winning over sceptics - including some religious voters.

The election in November is being described by commentators as "wide open", with Obama enjoying a slight lead in the polls, but not in any way that makes him a clear favourite.

Chris Herlinger of ENI writes: Senator Barack Obama evoked religious language and the spirit of civil rights leader the Rev Martin Luther King Jr as he accepted the Democratic Party's nomination for president of the United States last week. The event took place on the 45th anniversary of King's landmark "I Have a Dream" speech.

Obama, the first non-white on a major national US political party ticket, cited King's words as he delivered a rousing, 44-minute speech before 90 000 people at an open-air football stadium in Denver on 28 August. At times, Obama spoke with the cadence of King and others in the African-American religious tradition.

"We cannot walk alone, the preacher cried," Obama said, citing King. "And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back."

"We cannot walk alone," Obama added. "At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise, that American promise, and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess."

The fact that the 47-year-old Obama accepted the nomination on the anniversary of King's 28 August 1963 landmark speech, delivered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, was seen as almost providential by some.

Fellow civil rights leaders Wyatt. T. Walker and Dorothy Height, who were with King on the day he made his famous speech, savoured the moment.

In interviews with the US ABC News television channel, Height said that the slain civil rights leader and Baptist minister would be the first to "recognise that our country has moved forward in a very positive direction".

Walker, an aide to King, said, "It just goes to show dreams can come true."

While Obama's speech did not carry many other overt religious themes, the Illinois senator did express hope that Americans could find common ground even though they were often divided politically and within religious denominations on such "hot-button" social issues as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Still, most of Obama's speech was an attack on current President George W. Bush and Obama's Republican Party opponent, Senator John McCain, who will be nominated next week at his party's convention in St Paul, Minnesota.

"America, we are better than these last eight years," Obama said. "We are a better country than this."

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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