Writer and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois prophesied in his 1903 book, "The Souls of Black Folk," that the great "problem" of the 20th century would be that of the "color line."
If Du Bois were alive today, standing at this transformational crossroads in history, with the inauguration of the first black U.S. president, perhaps he'd forecast that in the 21st century, we'll finally begin to see the "color line" and the racial divide in America slowly disappear -- or at least become less prominent.
Will that color line completely vanish in this century? That's probably wishful thinking. But as the past century has illustrated, a lot can happen in a hundred years.
Although many of the issues Du Bois raised in his seminal book remain with us today, the election of President Barack Obama is indicative that an amazing transformation of the American consciousness has taken place. Only 50 years ago, the scourge of racial segregation and Jim Crow were the laws of the land in many states.
My mother, who will be 78 years old next month, remembers those days well. As a child growing up in segregation-era Mobile, Ala., Mom had to sit in the "colored" section if she wanted to go see a movie or ride a bus.
With that in mind, it's amazing to think even with the legacy of institutionalized racism that runs deep through the veins of this young nation, within a relatively short time, a person of color has ascended to America's highest office.
As Bob Dylan sang, "The times they are a changing" -- but for the better.
One reason for that change is the dying of the old guard. The Bull Connors, J. Edgar Hoovers and Strom Thurmonds of the world -- people who for years trumpeted white supremacy as official U.S. government policy -- are leaving us.
They had their time, and thank God it's coming to an end.
And people who express or hold such views, especially those in power, are becoming more and more irrelevant as the younger generation moves into adulthood and ultimately positions of power.
While everyone votes for his or her own reason, there were millions of people who chose Obama because of his message and the belief that he was the most qualified person -- who just happens to be black.
Sure, there were those who voted for Obama because of his race -- just as there were those on the opposite end of the spectrum who said they would never support a black man as president, regardless of his qualifications. For others, the election may have been merely a referendum on the Bush administration.
What is significant, however, is that there were obviously enough people of all ethnicities and backgrounds who didn't consider race an important factor in making their choice for president. In fact, many political pundits hypothesized before the election that Obama's ethnicity would only serve as an obstacle to his victory.
Obama not only defied the pundits -- he defied the idea that the leadership of the world's most powerful nation is still a "white males only" club. With the smashing of that proverbial glass ceiling, it's no longer an unforeseeable possibility that we may one day have a female, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander -- or even an openly gay or lesbian -- U.S. president.
The possibilities indeed, are now limitless.
I had the pleasure of meeting Obama in 2005, in perhaps the oddest of places -- the bathroom of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles.
I was covering the 36th annual NAACP Image Awards for a publication in Southern California. I was in the restroom, and standing in the stall next to me was then-Sen. Obama. He was being awarded the group's Chairman's Award at the event. I had to laugh, because I had no idea that my most memorable moment of the night was going to happen in a restroom.