Letter to President Obama From Mayor Otis Johnson

Mayor Otis Johnson
Mayor Otis Johnson

January 19, 2009
President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
NW Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:

I am the second African American Mayor of Savannah, Georgia. I was born in Savannah in 1942, and grew up in a segregated South. As a boy, I never had a dream that I would one day be mayor of the first city in the thirteenth British colony in North America. My generation was taught that education, good character, a strong work ethic, and being ambitious would bring success. But there was always the reality of the Jim Crow system we were living in.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other freedom fighters before him instilled in us a new vision of the possible as we were coming out of high school. Through the Civil Rights Movement, it became possible for me and more than 600 other African Americans to be mayors and provide leadership for our local communities. There are thousands of other African Americans elected to local, state, and national positions as a result of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Young African Americans no longer doubt that they can become mayors, governors, and representatives and senators at the state and national levels. But, there was still doubt about making that final hurdle of electing an African American President of the United States.

Your brilliant campaign and subsequent election on November 4, 2008 to become the 44th President of the United States have removed forever the doubt in my mind, and millions of others, that an African American could be elected President. You are the fulfillment of the message in Dr. King’s famous “I Have A Dream” that one day in America we would judge people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Tomorrow, I will witness you become the most powerful man in the world as you take the oath of office. Dr. King was our Moses. You can be our Joshua. A Joshua, not just for African Americans, but for all humanity, just as Dr. King was a Moses for all humanity. Moses had the vision and Joshua made the vision a reality.

You have been given a challenge like no other president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. You inherit two wars and the worse economic conditions since the Great Depression. I, like many others, believe you were anointed to be the leader to guide our country out of this wilderness. We will be there to help you fulfill your campaign slogan of “Yes We Can.” We will be soldiers in your army that will continue the march toward “The Promised Land” of full equality and opportunity for all Americans.

Tomorrow, I will be thinking about how James Weldon Johnson summed up the aspirations of generations of African Americans and other disadvantaged people in the words of his song ”’Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Tomorrow, I will “Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us.” I will “Sing a song full of the hope the present has brought us.” I will be on the Mall “Facing the rising sun of our new day began” with your inauguration and be ready to …”march on till victory is won” in the struggle to make the American dream a reality for all Americans.

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