Presidents During My Lifetime

by on September 6, 2022 · 2 comments

in Election, From the Soul, History

by Ernie McCray

15 presidents have served our country
during my lifetime,
all of them affecting me
in some way,
beginning with Franklin Delano Roosevelt,
a man who gave me a sense,
even in my childhood innocence
that a president
was kind of important
as I listened to grownups rave
about the role he played
in keeping the country safe
during the Second World War,
a war I fought with my pals everyday
in our play,
when we weren’t shooting robbers
and Indians and anybody else
who got in our way.

Next came
Harry S. Truman,
attracting my attention when I heard a neighbor
talking about how he
“did mo’ fo’ colored folks
than any president here-to-fo’,”
in reference to him
declaring equality
for “all” people in the military,
be they Black or White
or Christian or Jew
or from here or elsewhere,
it didn’t matter who.

From then on, I had an interest in
presidents and politics
and what made them tick,
and when war hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower, came on the scene,
in my teens, sharing his misgivings about
the military-industrial complex,
the war machine,
I, a reservist in the marines, was questioning
whether or not I really wanted to be
a “lean, mean killing machine”
and a few other things,
and soon
I was campaigning for John Kennedy,
appreciating a lot of what he had to say,
all that “Ask not what your country can do for you,
but what you can do for it”
and the like,
patiently waiting for him to stop lollygagging
and get in the swing of things,
considering that
the push for civil rights, at the time, was in full swing,
and “Blam!” he took an assassin’s bullet
and was gone,
and in stepped LBJ
to save the day,
signing a voting act
for which people had marched
and prayed,
actions causing me to appreciate him
in a special way,
then, after he let a war in Vietnam escalate
his presidential days came to an abrupt end
and my political education began to really kick in
as Richard “Tricky Dicky” Nixon took residence
in the West Wing,
showing no evidence that he respected
the hopes and dreams of my people,
recklessly initiating a “War on Drugs”
that wreaked havoc
in “minority” communities,
and Gerald Ford came along,
to finish his term after his impeachment
for his criminal activities,
and amended the Voting Rights Act
and brought attention to Black History Month,
which registered with me,
although he, more or less, in fact,
left it at that
before he was dethroned,
giving way to Jimmy Carter,
a Georgia peanut farmer,
who touched me with his open mind
and loving heart
which didn’t sit well
in a country not known for its comfort
with “nice guys” in high places.
One term and he was out like Ford before him,
leaving the door open
for Ronald Reagan to rush in
like a western hero, attacking labor unions,
in keeping with his having gassed
the “free speech movement” at Berkeley
and having set the stage for Sister Angela Davis
ending up on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List
which especially bothered me deeply,
and then George H.W. Bush replaces him,
sparking “Desert Storm” aka the Gulf War
and adding more fuel to the drug war,
two things I would never have bargained for,
and Bill “Slick Willie” Clinton arrives with a
ton of shuck
and an equal amount of jive,
bringing to life
a “3 Strikes” policy
and suddenly
jails and penitentiaries
are filled with young people
who look like me
and gay service men and women
find themselves in a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
mildly homophobic situation,
much to my consternation,
and “Dubya,”
spells him,
unleashing a bevy of war crimes
for who knows what reason or rhyme,
leaving Barack Obama, the first Black president,
who came to us like a breath of fresh air,
an economy to repair
while providing millions of people
desperately needed health care
while republicans fought him every step of the way,
signaling that although America
had voted in a person of color
to the highest office in the land,
it wasn’t really ready for it,
as evidenced by the election of an
incredibly deviant White supremacist
who has not displayed a single redeeming quality
that anyone has witnessed,
a man who exposed the fragility of our democracy
by nearly bringing it to its knees
with MAGA folks at his side,
doing his deeds,
making the man who succeeded him,
Joe Biden,
seem like a gift from heaven,
appearing to be the man of the hour
at this point in our history,
speaking forcefully, finally,
calling a spade, a spade,
some would say,
working towards
curtailing a pandemic
and restoring a waning economy,
and bringing us together
to prevent our nation’s
at the hands of folks bent
on trying to revise
all the accomplishments
that have been made
by folks seeking liberty and justice
as a prize.

If anyone does, he deserves a
high five.

But one thing I’ve learned
from these presidents,
no matter who they are
or what they’re trying to achieve,
they can’t go about it alone.

So, the call for everyone
is to help Biden
make and keep our country
safe and strong.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Marie Johnson September 7, 2022 at 4:47 pm

Thank you, Ernie, for your history lesson so well thought out. The phrase that paused my eyes from moving forward as I kept re-reading it was:
“…although America
had voted in a person of color
to the highest office in the land,
it wasn’t really ready for it.”
You said it well; I hadn’t thought of his presidency in that way.


Thomas L Gayton September 8, 2022 at 5:09 pm



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