Union Democrat staff

"I have a dream."

The words of Dr. Martin Luther King, whom we honor today, rang out from Washington's Lincoln Memorial over a crowd of nearly 200,000 more than 45 years ago.

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character," Dr. King intoned, describing a nation of tolerance and enlightenment whose time was yet to come.

With tomorrow's inauguration of Barack Obama, our nation's first black president, some may swear that day has finally arrived. Others, perhaps in the depths of our inner cities or in forgotten rural backwaters, know much progress still must be made.

But all would agree that what has happened since that hot August night in 1963 has been remarkable.

Barack Obama summed it up in the first words of his November victory speech in Chicago's Grant Park:

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."

That Martin Luther King Day and Inauguration Day fall on consecutive dates this year seems more than a coincidence. The back-to-back celebrations seem at once to embody justice, triumph and the realization of a long-sought goal.

The excitement has carried more than 3,000 miles, from Washington to the California foothills and mountains:

•For the 14th year, Tuolumne County residents gathered today at the Sonora High School Auditorium to honor Dr. King and his civil rights legacy. Remarks by Suzan Still, music by Dennis Brown and the Sierra Waldorf Choir, poetry and refreshments were featured.

•Also today, Columbia College students and others met at the Dogwood Theater on campus to express, "through assorted art forms," their views on the changing of the presidential guard.

•Dogwood, beginning at 8 a.m. Tuesday, will also host big-screen TV coverage of the 9 a.m. (PST) inauguration and the events leading up to it.

•Inauguration parties are planned tonight in downtown Murphys, Mokelumne Hill and East Sonora.

Despite these celebrations, most of us didn't vote for Barack Obama here in the Mother Lode. Tuolumne and Calaveras county voters instead gave Republican John McCain nearly 55 percent of their vote.

Yet the new president deserves our backing as he takes office amid the worst economic crisis in a half century and with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan claiming the lives of our soldiers.

"I may not have won your vote," Obama told McCain voters during the Grant Park speech. "But I hear your voices, I need your help and I will be your president, too."

The president-elect has made good on pledges to reach beyond ideological and political divides: He's met with President Bush and all our living ex-presidents. He's named Republicans - including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates - to his cabinet. Incurring the anger of more than a few supporters, he tabbed fundamentalist preacher Rick Warren to give tomorrow's invocation. And just last week he had dinner with a group of Washington-based conservative columnists.

Barack Obama has done the right things and, tomorrow, in one of our democracy's most hallowed and historic traditions, he will take the oath of office and realize a dream that might have stretched even Martin Luther King's hopes.

Our new president will be judged on his decisions and accomplishments, but in taking office tomorrow he deserves our support and our prayers.