Speaking in March 2007 at a chapel in Selma, Ala., in commemoration of a bloody march for voting rights, Senator Barack Obama put forward a name for a new generation of African-Americans. After acknowledging “a certain presumptuousness” (a long but not incorrect form of “presumption”) in running for president after such a short time in Washington, Obama credited the Rev. Otis Moss Jr. for writing him “to look at the story of Joshua because you’re part of the Joshua generation.”
He noted that the “Moses generation” had led his people out of bondage but was not permitted by God to cross the river from the wilderness to the Promised Land. In the Hebrew Bible, it was Joshua, chosen by Moses to be his successor, who led the people across, won the battle of Jericho (aided by the miracle of daylight saving time) and established the nation. “It was left to the Joshuas to finish the journey Moses had begun,” Obama said to the youthful successors to the aging leaders of the civil rights movement, “and today we’re called to be the Joshuas of our time, to be the generation that finds our way across the river.”
Another new moniker — Generation O — has surfaced in headlines and on T-shirts; it seems too leader-specific as well as imitative of the short-lived Y and Z. But the Mosaic-Joshuan biblical metaphor, although popularized by Obama specifically about the successors to civil rights pioneers, was helped along in a broader context, post-election, as the title of an article by David Remnick in The New Yorker and in a reference to the president-elect by Jonathan Alter in Newsweek as “the beneficiary of the spirit of the ’60s by white baby boomers.” Though the spirit of an age is best defined in retrospect, and religious allusion is not currently considered cool, the Joshua Generation — unlike all its era-naming predecessors — does have alliteration going for it.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
You Knew You're In the Joshua Generation?
William Safire sums it up semantically, or is that lexicographically?