Kathleen Parker

In fact, Obama has made clear that he is a new generation of American black. He doesn't have to genuflect to the civil rights period, nor is he tethered to a heritage that seems at times to hold others hostage.

It is precisely Obama's ability to address America's broader needs -- black and white, red and blue -- that makes him accessible and acceptable (and nonthreatening) to whites weary of the burden of the nation's racist past.

He is, in other words, that next generation history has been waiting for.

Whatever his politics, Obama is the prize that men like Lewis bled for and for whom Martin Luther King died. Just two generations after passage of the Voting Rights Act, a black man is a serious contender for the presidency.

It should come as no surprise that some civil rights-era leaders, whose identities are so closely tied to those earlier days, would resist embracing this new fellow on the block. It is hard to let go of that which defines us, painful to recognize that one's time is past and that a new generation is rising.

Lewis, on the other hand, seems to suffer no such pride of ownership. It was he who invited Obama to Selma a month before Clinton decided to go. And it is Obama, not Clinton, who has been awarded Selma's prime real estate -- the Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church where the famous march began.

Clinton will be speaking at the black First Baptist Church a few yards away on Martin Luther King Jr. Street. Jackson and Sharpton have reserved pulpits at Tabernacle Baptist Church and the Second Baptist Church, respectively.

In his symbolic gesture, Lewis seems to have passed the torch, suggesting that perhaps we are finally ready to move on. Not to forget, but to let go.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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