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In search of Common Ground

In the aftermath of Obama's victory on Tuesday, let's consider some of the dramatic changes in recent American life.

A little more than 30 years ago, the following photo epitomized the violence, hostility, and bitter sense of racial division that was tearing Boston apart, an era masterfully captured in J. Anthony Lukas's classic Common Ground

Some background:

A portrait of unthinkable racial hatred, the photograph punctured the nation's comfortable illusion that the struggle over civil rights was primarily a Southern phenomenon, and it crystallized Boston's reputation as a racist city. Following the assault, the man at the center of the frame, who is none other than [Ted] Landsmark, proclaimed that someone tried "to kill me with an American flag." 

More recently, the friendly fire shooting death of Providence police Officer Cornel Young Jr. in 2000 surfaced a sharp sense of unfinished racial business. As I reported at the time:

Although Rhode Island's capital has become a symbol of urban rejuvenation, celebrated subliminally in NBC's Friday night soap drama Providence, long-standing concerns about racial inequities and police-community relations were ignored until Young's death galvanized a storm of grassroots activism. As put by Clifford Montiero, president of the Providence chapter of the NAACP, "There was polarization before the shooting, but it was quiet polarization. Now, we have loud polarization."

Flash forward a little more than eight years.

On Tuesday, Montiero, a veteran of the civil-rights movement at the '60s, was among those at the Providence Biltmore joyously celebrating Obama's victory.

William Greider on what it means:

We are inheritors of this momentous victory, but it was not ours. The laurels properly belong to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and all of the other martyrs who died for civil rights. And to millions more before them who struggled across centuries and fell short of winning their freedom. And to those rare politicians like Lyndon B. Johnson, who stood up bravely in a decisive time, knowing how much it would cost his political party for years to come. We owe all of them for this moment.

Whatever happens next, Barack Obama has already changed this nation profoundly. Like King before him, the man is a great and brave teacher. Obama developed out of his life experiences a different understanding of the country, and he had the courage to run for president by offering this vision. For many Americans, it seemed too much to believe, yet he turned out to be right about us. Against all odds, he persuaded a majority of Americans to believe in their own better natures and, by electing him, the people helped make it true. There is mysterious music in democracy when people decide to believe in themselves.

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