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Taking stock in our history

Last week, several friends from other portions of the country — and the world — e-mailed and called to see how it felt to live and work in Selma after the election of the first African-American president.

All liberals of one ilk or the other, some of them didn’t understand when the old cynicism kicked in just out of the shadow of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, noted by President-elect Obama in his victory speech.

These friends congratulated the nation on rising above race and electing a man whose mother was white and whose father was black. They also said they felt an energy they’d never felt before.

I’m wondering if they should logon to some of the comments made at www.theselmatimesjournal.com under the story in which The Associated Press declared Obama the winner. It might have thrown a dash of cold water on their proclamations that the issue of race died all of the sudden with the election of this Illinois senator to commander-in-chief.

The fact that we mentioned race at all as a factor in this election on the day after also drove a point home that this nation remains consumed with skin color as much as it ever did, expressing it in different ways.

I thought about how a young, energetic Harvard graduate took office in a close election with the help of Illinois and how so many Baby Boomers had faith that this man — John F. Kennedy — would usher in a new age.

He or Ted Sorensen, his speechwriter, apparently believed a great deal of the hype. All one has to do is take a few phrases, especially, “a torch is passed to a new generation.” We hold JFK close because he was gunned down in the streets of Dallas, Texas, at the prime of his life when most of us believed he held so much promise. And, many times I’ve wondered if JFK had not become a national martyr if he would have lived up to his billing.

Kennedy escalated one of the most unpopular wars this country has fought.

Additionally, he brought us the failed Bay of Pigs fiasco that left a group of patriots without any support. Kennedy talked hard, but his administration did not carry through successfully with many plans.

Many historians believe Kennedy’s administration, if he had lived, would have been lackluster at best.

So when I think of this other young man — another generation — taking the torch, I celebrate for our country. Obama is attractive. He is well spoken. He has worked at the grass roots level and seems aware of the poor and the middle class. It is good to hope. But it is also wise to sit still amid the celebration and become mindful of where we are.

Leesha Faulkner is executive editor of the Times Journal and may be reached at 410-1730 or leesha.faulkner@selmatimesjournal.com.