Reverend Joseph Lowery, who will give the benediction at President-elect Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony Tuesday, said he's excited and nervous, but mostly "humbled to have been asked to play a part."
"There are so many emotions," he told "Nightline" today. "I'm still overwhelmed by, by what has happened. Even though I watched it unfold and played a small role in it, I'm still not sure it's real. But it's not possible for everybody to have the same dream on the same night, so it must be real."
Lowery said he hopes to catch a glimpse of the Lincoln Memorial during the ceremony, and will be thinking of his friend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"I think in my mind's eye, I'll see a young 34-year-old preacher calling America to move beyond the, the limitations and restrictions of color to a higher level of character," he said. "And that ceremony Tuesday will be the nation's response to Martin's call because this election is a clear and marvelous example of the nation moving beyond color."
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Lowery recently underwent back surgery and arrived at the interview in a wheelchair, but his enthusiasm and passion belied his 89 years. In many ways he represents a link between a painful past and a hopeful present.
Born in 1921 in Alabama, in the heart of the segregated south, Lowery still recalls being punched by a white police officer as a young man leaving his father's store. He went on to be instrumental in the creation of the Voting Rights Act, the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and one of Martin Luther King Jr.'s closest advisers. He was also an early supporter of the Obama campaign.
The president-elect calls Lowery part of the Moses generation, those founders of the Civil Rights movement upon whose shoulders this generation can now stand. Lowery says he's proud of his role in the movement, but wants to keep looking toward the future.
Speaking about the famous "I Have a Dream" speech, Lowery said he's troubled that some young people view King "as just a dreamer."
"It's a powerful oration, it's a powerful message," he said. "But I think, sometimes, we may have tucked it away in sentimentality and taken away its, its tragedy, taken away its sadness. It's triumphant, but there are moments in a movement which are sad."
The election of an African American to the presidency is "a giant step, but it isn't the whole journey," Lowery said. "The election of one person to one office, even if it's the most powerful office on the planet, does not solve all the problems related to race relations."
Among the problems facing the African American community, Lowery cited the comparatively low median income and the disproportionate number of blacks in the U.S. prison population.
"We've come a long way, there's no question about it, but we've still got miles and miles to go before we sleep."
Lowery had harsh words for other members of the black community who felt Obama wasn't prepared to be president, saying that they were living with a slave mentality.