WASHINGTON President Barack Obama is putting a symbolic twist on a time-honored tradition, taking the oath of office for his second term with his hand placed not on a single Bible but on two — one owned by Martin Luther King Jr. and one by Abraham Lincoln.
The inclusion of King’s Bible is particularly significant since the inauguration comes on Jan. 21, the federal holiday in honor of the civil-rights leader, who delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech 50 years ago at the Lincoln Memorial. Obama will be facing the memorial as he takes the oath. King’s Bible, which his children say he used early in his career as a preacher, has never been part of a presidential inauguration.
The selection of the pair of Bibles announced Thursday is richly symbolic of the struggle for equality in America, beginning with Lincoln’s emancipation of slaves 150 years ago this month, through King’s leadership of the civil-rights movement, and ultimately to Obama becoming the nation’s first black president.
Inaugural planners say Obama plans to place his left hand on the stacked Bibles held by first lady Michelle Obama as he raises his right hand to repeat the oath administered by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. It hasn’t been determined which will be on top, with Obama’s hand actually resting on it, but King’s is larger, so it may need to be on the bottom.
Obama used the Lincoln Bible while taking the oath four years ago — the first time it had been used since the 16th president’s inauguration in 1861.
Obama’s inaugural committee says that the president plans to use the first lady’s family’s Bible for a private swearing-in at the White House on Sunday, Jan. 20. Public presidential inaugurations traditionally aren’t held on Sundays, even though the Constitution states that a president’s new term begins automatically at noon on the 20th.