On February 10th, 2007 a young little known senator from Illinois announced to his Springfield constituents, and the world, that he would seek the office of President of the United States of America. This was the first time that most Americans would hear the name Barack Hussein Obama. Then Senator Obama recounted how he arrived at this moment from the steps of the Illinois state house:
“…let me tell you how I came to be here. As most of you know, I am not a native of this great state. I moved to Illinois over two decades ago. I was a young man then, just a year out of college; I knew no one in Chicago, was without money or family connections. But a group of churches had offered me a job as a community organizer for $13,000 a year. And I accepted the job, sight unseen, motivated then by a single, simple, powerful idea – that I might play a small part in building a better America.
My work took me to some of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods. I joined with pastors and lay-people to deal with communities that had been ravaged by plant closings. I saw that the problems people faced weren’t simply local in nature – that the decision to close a steel mill was made by distant executives; that the lack of textbooks and computers in schools could be traced to the skewed priorities of politicians a thousand miles away; and that when a child turns to violence, there’s a hole in his heart no government could ever fill.
It was in these neighborhoods that I received the best education I ever had, and where I learned the true meaning of my Christian faith.
After three years of this work, I went to law school, because I wanted to understand how the law should work for those in need. I became a civil rights lawyer, and taught constitutional law, and after a time, I came to understand that our cherished rights of liberty and equality depend on the active participation of an awakened electorate. It was with these ideas in mind that I arrived in this capital city as a state Senator.”
The speech was as much a manifesto as it was a resume with Mr. Obama using the moment to establish himself as a Washington outsider with designs on reforming the beltway gridlock. Obama stated plainly that he was not a seasoned politician, while at the same moment deftly hinting at his deeper agenda of change:
“I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness – a certain audacity – to this announcement. I know I haven’t spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I’ve been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.”
For more Black History Month special coverage turn to the Atlanta Voice, and for more on this moment in black history check out this video from the Associated Press Archive: