An American Hope

Posted on November 5, 2008

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Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

I read Huckleberry Finn five times when I was a teenager.  That great Mark Twain novel inspired in me a wanderlust so strong it tore me out of school before I had even graduated.  (I did return, eventually.)  After I had seen some of Canada, I then began, over several summers and occasional other seasons, to explore the country of Twain, south of the border.  I saw a lot of highways, from Maine to California, from Chicago to Houston, got drunk in New Orleans during the Mardi Gras, climbed a mountain in Wyoming, busked on the sidewalks of San Francisco, lost a resounding game of chess in a park in Washington, D.C.  And along the way I met so many generous and open people of so many different voices and varieties that it makes me smile sometimes to remember them.

The United States of America produced many of my heroes:  the already mentioned Mark Twain, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Louis Armstrong, Mohammed Ali, Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, and many, many others.

It created the music I love, jazz, blues, country, bluegrass, rock and roll, Cajun, Zydeco, Tex-Mex, r&b.

Yet the country which calls itself America has often troubled me also, with its foreign policies which seemed often too ready to go to war, with its racial divide, with its cultural arrogance, with its Christian intolerance, with its easy acceptance of poverty and unequal opportunity.

I have not always been happy with America.

The USA is a powerful country, an influential country, a country of great wealth and promise – but also a country severely flawed in many ways, as I believed.  But yesterday, beyond all hope, and yet at the same time, in an unprecedented harnessing of hope, the American people elected Barack Obama for President.

Yesterday a man of colour assumed the role of America’s leader.  I could hardly believe it.  Six months ago I wrote somewhere that I did not think it was possible.  Yet it happened.

Yesterday America proved that it is not merely a powerful country, that it is not merely a wealthy country, that it is not merely an influential country.

Yesterday America proved, contrary to all doubts and misgivings that it is, in fact, and as it has always claimed, a great country.

May the American promise that was born yesterday in the voting booths continue and prosper.

You have given me hope, and for that I thank you, all you people of America.

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