The year began with a harmonious glow at the inauguration of the first black president, as America marked a stunning victory over its racial demons.
”That lasted about a day,” President Barack Obama said two months later. He attributed that to the economic calamity threatening all Americans, but his statement also applied to the notion that all our racial problems had been solved.
The dynamics of race were transformed in 2009 because the most powerful person on Earth was no longer white. But despite that potent symbol — and sometimes because of it — race remained a volatile and often divisive subject.
”It felt like an evolution to me, something that created a paradigm shift,” says Dr. Joy DeGruy, a black author and speaker who focuses on racial healing. ”We moved a quantum leap forward.”
Conservative radio host Mike Gallagher calls the change ”profound” and says there were fewer racial controversies last year than in almost any other during his 30-plus years of radio.
”I get the sense from my audience collectively that there is a sigh of relief, that we’ve made progress this year,” says Gallagher, who is white. ”Because I truly believe that good people don’t want to be mired in racial conflict.”
One sign of that progress was Elwin Wilson. Inspired by reaction to the inauguration, he sought out U.S. Rep. John Lewis. They had last met in 1961, when Wilson and other white racists brutally beat Lewis during a Freedom Ride civil rights protest in South Carolina.
Wilson apologized, and Lewis accepted.
”I think it will lead to a great deal of healing,” the black congressman said.