Seeing Dr. King’s dream fulfilled

 - Charles Melton/staff photo
— image credit: Charles Melton/staff photo

Growing up in Oklahoma City in the 1950s and ’60s, Cherry Rachal remembers going with her father, who worked at Tinker Air Force Base, to purchase some meat from a butcher in Midwest City.

It was there she saw a white man push her father’s basket out of the way, so he could get in front of him.

Although her father didn’t do anything, Rachal recalls grabbing the man’s basket and pulling it out of the way, so her father could maintain his place in line.

“My dad was upset with me,” she remembered, noting that at the time, Oklahoma was part of Jim Crow country, where racial segregation was very much in effect, despite federal regulations barring discriminatory practices.

At the age of 16, Rachal rode on a Freedom Bus to Washington, D.C. to witness Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963. She stood at the feet of the Lincoln Memorial to catch a glimpse of the civil rights leader.

“We couldn’t get off the bus because of how things were,” she said, adding that because of the large crowd gathered to hear King speak, he only appeared to be a dot on the horizon, but his words were clearly audible.

At the time, Rachal said she didn’t realize what an impact King’s speech would have on her life as she became active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the civil rights movement as one of the African-American teachers recruited to integrate the Bremerton School District in 1969.

“Dr. King taught us there is power in nonviolence,” she recalled, adding that he also paved the way for President-Elect Barack Obama to become the nation’s first African-American president on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., where she with her husband Rev. Samuel Rachal will attend his inauguration.

“I feel Obama has a higher calling for such a time as this,” she said. “It is a divine calling, because I don’t think anyone thought this would happen 10 years ago, much less 20 years ago.”

During the 1980s, Rev. Jesse Jackson made two failed bids for the presidency, and Rachal said he simply wasn’t the right man to fulfill Dr. King’s dream that a person be judged by “the content of their character and not the color of their skin.”

People have faith in Obama, because of the way he conducts himself with a poised calm demeanor and his intelligence and eloquence that made his race almost a non-factor in the 2008 presidential election, she said.

“I just believe he was given a plan by a higher calling for these times,” she said.

Rachal’s journey to Obama’s inauguration began before he was elected as she purchased two round-trip tickets to Washington D.C. in late October, because she felt he was going to win, and subsequently a letter to Congressman Jay Inslee resulted in two tickets to attend his inauguration on Tuesday.

The impact of Obama’s election also has been felt on younger generations including Rachal’s three daughters, who faced different obstacles growing up in Kitsap County rather than in her hometown in the South.

Rachal remembers her daughters coming home and telling her what it felt like to be the only black person in a classroom, which is far different from her own experience as a child where she went to school with predominately other black students.

On Election Night, Rachal said her middle daughter, Tiffany, called her and said, “’Mom, tonight is the first time in my life that I’ve felt close to my white sisters,’ and that was profound to me.”

In Kitsap County, African-American children don’t have the role models they have in the South, where there are black doctors, lawyers and other professionals, she said, noting that the first time she saw a white doctor was when she moved to Bremerton.

Because of his devotion to his family, Obama provides a far better role model for African-American men than the images they see on TV that are “almost pornographic,” she added.

The challenge in Kitsap County, especially in the black community, is to foster a better sense of self-identity and knowledge that no matter what color or ethnicity a child is “they still have worth.”

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