CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- During my attendance at the presidential inauguration, fortuitously on the same day we honored Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, there were many reflective moments.
The need to continue a conversation in West Virginia regarding the Mountain State's diversity identity is increasingly important. Although far too many of our people have attitudes that would cause them to give 40 percent of their primary vote to a convicted felon, along with political leaders who uncourageously play to the lowest elements and personalities who continue a daily drumbeat of marginalization and division, I am hopeful that we will regain our progressive bearings.
One of the most poignant statements from Dr. Martin Luther King is that "the arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice." While Dr. King made the statement famous, it was actually an abridgment of a phrase made in 1853 by an abolitionist supporter of John Brown by the name of Theodore Parker. Parker wrote the following in his book "Of Justice and the Conscience":
"I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice."
While the preservation of the status quo can please a narrow-thinking populace, justice continues to unfold and we will face the consequences of our attitudes. Will we be known as a place that accepted the limitations imposed by a radical right playing to our darkest fears, or will history judge us as the generation that made the turnaround that signaled the end of our regression as we become more open to societal change? Now that the election is over and America has made her choice, our attitude toward our President may be crucial to how we are viewed by the national and world community.
The President's inaugural address was thoughtful, inclusive and determined. In a speech reminiscent of the word conciseness of the Gettysburg address, President Obama cast a vision for the 21st century America:
"We the people declare today that the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal -- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall."
In that concise statement the President affirmed civil rights movements for women, minorities and LGBTs. A review of the old grainy films showing those who opposed integration or the rights of women and more recently the acceptance of the gay community presents a realization that choices to limit the freedom of others become a negative shadow on the mosaic of the "Arc of the Universe." While those who opposed justice did not prevail, their legacies reveal the consequences of negative choices.
The Mountain State has an additional four years to respect, if not honor, our country's President who was reelected despite our state's resistance. I was moved by our region's inclusion in the incredible 18 minute Inaugural address of President Obama when he said:
"Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm."
The arc of the judgment on West Virginia for future generations will be based, in part, on how we display appropriate respect for our first African-American president. Reasonable people can differ and disagreement with policy should not be considered disrespect. Nevertheless, the discourteous signs I see across our state, the vitriolic statements by public personalities and disrespect by political leaders, should not be tolerated.
As the President so aptly said, "[m]y fellow Americans, we are made for this moment and we will seize it, so long as we seize it together." Many of my fellow West Virginians should reconsider their lack of respect for this President. Since the Arc of the Universe bends toward justice we should do it for our own legacy.
Fryson, a lawyer and pastor, is a Gazette contributing columnist and is the chief diversity officer for West Virginia University.