Crossing the river one more time

PBS has taken viewers on an incredible journey for the past several weeks.

It’s been highlighted in a series examining the history of African Americans. The next installment of the extraordinary series airs Tuesday at 7 p.m. on Panhandle PBS. “Many Rivers to Cross: It’s Nation Time (1968-2013)” examines class disparity within the African American community.

It’s good to ponder that for a moment.

The year 1968 was a tumultuous time for all Americans. The Vietnam War was still raging while protests at home also were burning white hot with rage. Then, on April 4, 1968, a single rifle shot fired in Memphis, Tenn., killed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., arguably the pre-eminent voice for equality and fairness. Riots ensued, which ironically were totally counter to the peaceful doctrine that Dr. King preached during his life. Two months later, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy — a powerful advocate for African Americans — was gunned down in a Los Angeles hotel kitchen. More sorrow engulfed the nation.

The years since that terrible year produced a mixed bag of progress and setbacks for African Americans.

The next installment of “Many Rivers to Cross” concludes, however, with the election of the nation’s first African American president, Barack Obama, in 2008.

Is the journey toward full equality for African Americans complete? Hardly. Barack Obama’s election, though, does signal a significant turning point in the history of black Americans. It demonstrates that while race still matters in the eyes of many Americans, it no longer prohibits people from attaining the highest office in the land solely on the basis of their skin color.

That singular political event, all by itself, represents a huge step forward.

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