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President Obama: RFK’s prediction finally came true

Howard Manly | 10/24/2012, 8:44 a.m.

In the early 1960s, then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy painted a promising picture for African Americans.

The interview was broadcast on Voice of America to 60 countries across the globe and occurred at a time when blacks were soldiering through the Civil Rights Movement.

“There’s no question about it,” Kennedy reportedly said. “In the next 40 years, a Negro can achieve the same position that my brother has.”

Apocryphal or not, the younger brother of President John F. Kennedy went on to say that prejudice existed, and probably would continue to.

“But we have tried to make progress and we are making progress,” he said. “We are not going to accept the status quo.”

That status quo changed in 2008 when Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States, and the first African American.

“I stand here today,” Obama said at the time, “humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.”

By tracing those sacrifices, Obama essentially told the story of America.

“Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less,” he said. “It has not been the path for the fainthearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

“For us,” Obama explained, “they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.”

Obama’s story is all too well known by now. And maybe, just maybe, Kennedy really believed that someday a black would be president. But at the time of RFK’s interview, blacks couldn’t imagine anything of the sort.

In a story published on March 7, 1965, in the New York Times Magazine, highly acclaimed author James Baldwin wrote an essay titled “The American Dream and the American Negro.”

“I remember when the ex-Attorney General, Mr. Robert Kennedy, said it was conceivable that in 40 years in America we might have a Negro President,” Baldwin wrote. “That sounded like a very emancipated statement to white people. They were not in Harlem when this statement was first heard. They did not hear the laughter and bitterness and scorn with which this statement was greeted.

“From the point of view of the man in the Harlem barber shop, Bobby Kennedy only got here yesterday and now he is already on his way to the Presidency. We were here for 400 years and now he tells us that maybe in 40 years, if you are good, we may let you become President.”

Baldwin was a little harsh, but he wrote of what he knew, and the chance of the nation electing a black man to the U.S. presidency was as remote as landing a man on the moon.