President Barack Obama came to Memphis yesterday to present the keynote address to Booker T. Washington High School graduates. The students were overjoyed to receive the president, having competed with many schools attempting to gain the president’s attention. I and many other members of the community, together with elected officials from both parties local and national, television news reporters, and BTW alumni were also overjoyed. The varied aspects of a presidential visit went famously well: police security, student speeches leading up to the keynote, students primarily the center of focus, honor to the principal, a secondarily important meeting with flood victims, Rendevous barbeque for dinner, and more. As far as I could tell from watching the news, Mr. Obama shook every graduate’s hand who walked across the Cook Convention Center stage to receive a diploma. This was a meaningful and emotionally moving event, with power to change young lives.
Images delight. Put with text, they refresh communication. A reader may say, “Ah, that image doesn’t quite match what I had in mind . . . interesting.”
1) A memoirist is remembering useful truth seen through a child’s wisdom.
2) A memoirist enters into a contract with readers (blood kin and strangers) to tell events the way they really happened. Of course, the telling is according to the memoirist’s perspective. The beauty of the genre lies in the concept of selection. I, the memoirist, get to choose from all the scenes of my life what goes into my book, and I get to juxtapose the scenes according to my preference. This process is like making a storyboard for a documentary film, a real-world, plain picture. Those are two great words to me: “plain picture.” I also have positive feeling about the word “neutral.” We hear so much about the concept of passion, but to be neutral is to understand much and be governed by restraint. Restraint was a trait of my maternal ancestors, and some of them are in my memoir. What a privilege I have had to revisit as a writer people born in the time frame 1884 to 1923.
January 20, 2009 Thoughts After Thirteen Hours of Media Coverage
The United States of America has a new first family, and this is their address:
The President and Mrs. Barack Obama
Malia and Sasha
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500
Mr. and Mrs. Obama and their ten- and seven-year-old girls will sleep in their new home tonight, The White House. It will be a late night for the parents, expected to put in an appearance at ten balls around the city, and for their daughters Malia and Sasha as well. The girls had a scavenger hunt planned for them to encourage exploration inside the White House, and then two films, High School Musical III and Bolt for screening. The new first family’s opportunity to enjoy this remarkable home is the result of excellent practice in transition for years following formal traditions, coupled with the extensive work of household service people, including painters. In one day, the former first family’s possessions are cleared out and transported to another city, and the possessions of the new first family get placed, down to socks and underwear in drawers. The central formal tradition transferring power between presidents occurred at noon today, Tuesday, January 20, 2009. This year, the unique American political phenomenon of transferring power from an outgoing president to the newly elected one transitioned with ease. The Inaugural Day of Barack Obama went off in huge celebratory tone. An obvious nice thing for viewers was the sublime etiquette displayed between the Bushes and Obamas. From the swearing in, to the luncheon, to the departure of George and Laura Bush with Bush 41 and Barbara in the exquisite helicopter, wonderful graciousness and camaraderie were shown. The engagement between the two couples and with the American people was rare and memorable.
A million and a half people poured onto the mall. It was a sea of flag wavers and cell-phone photographers, many with tears streaming down their cheeks because of the emotion behind a Black-American taking the office of the presidency for the first time. Many of the journalists and media commentators addressed the idea of what a feeling that mall view must have created in Barack Obama as he entered the staging area facing the Washington Monument. This mall is a public park, so said a journalist. All day long, the most experienced and engaging communicators gave television viewers relevant facts of the various events, and some of the inside story of the two presidents, such as their differing social styles: The Bushes were a stay-at-home couple who went to bed early, and Mr. Obama likes to take his wife out in the evening. One of the commentators termed him the first “urban” president. Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, a green, lush place, but he has developed a “neighborhood” style of getting out and about. He and Michelle went out to eat and stayed overnight at the Equinox Restaurant near the White House one day ago, for relaxation and normality in such stressful days of winning public office. They are outward and citizenry oriented, and will embrace Washington society in a way that the Bushes did not prefer. President Obama is 47 and Mrs. Obama 45, and thus a younger leadership has set in, when one compares them with the two Bush families, the Clintons, and the Reagans. The on-the-town style suits the competitive flavor of Washington. Social life will return. People who work together will set aside their daytime differences and go out together at night. So predict the media professionals, who were so brightly conversing today:
NBC, Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw, David Beschloss, Andrea Mitchell (on a flatbed truck), Doris Kearns Goodwin;
CBS, Katie Couric, Bob Sheiffer, Jeff Goldstein;
ABC, Charles Gibson, Tim Moran, Diane Sawyer, George Stephanopolos;
PBS, Jim Lehrer, Gwen Ifil, Ray Suarez, David Brooks, Mark Shields, Ellen Fitzptrick
My favorite things about today: 1) the friendliness between Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama, 2) the exquisite helicopter that transported Mr. & Mrs. Bush away from the White House to their airplane, 3) the sublime observance of etiquette displayed by the Bushes & the Obamas, 4) the formality of announcing dignitaries entering to be seated for the swearing in and inaugural speech, and the luncheon, 5) Senator Diane Feinstein as moderator/chair, and her selection of Half Dome in a painting of Yosemite for the main wall at the luncheon, 6) three old politicians bowing out ungracefully in a kind of last stand: Dick Cheney, Ted Kennedy, & Robert Byrd, 7) in the Swearing In: the bobble Justice Roberts made when he misplaced the word “faithfully” and the President’s response to it, 8) the gleam in President Obama’s dark brown eye as he said killers of innocents who choose us can’t outlast us & we will defeat you!, 9) Britain’s Head of State describing president Obama as a man of great vision and moral purpose, 10) Nelson Mandela sending assurances, 11) Rev. Lowry’s Benediction: he’s 90, and from Memphis, a prayer so creative I will close this writing with a paraphrase of it:
“God of our weary years, of our silent tears,
Keep us on the way,
Lest our heart become drunk with the wine of the world.
Keep us true to our native land.
We give thanks for the experience of this day.
Bless Barack Obama.
He has come to a high position at a low moment.
But God, you have the whole world in your hands.
Thank you for our 44th President,
Who says, “Yes, we can.”
We seek forgiveness, coming in unity and solidarity.
May we turn to each other, not on each other.
Make choices on the side of love, not hate.
As we leave this mountaintop, help us to hold on.
May we walk together, and not get weary.
Turn tanks into tractors.
May justice roll down like water.
The joy of a new beginning—When
Black will not be asked to give back,
Brown can stick around,
Yellow will be mellow,
Red man can get ahead, man,
White will do what is right.
Amen, amen, and amen.”