I'm remembering a few people on this weekend before Barack Obama is sworn in as president of the United States on the steps of the U.S. Capitol — a national symbol that was built, in part, by slaves.
Rosa Parks, who refused to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Ala.
James Meredith, who refused to cringe under a jeering mob in Oxford, Miss.
The Freedom Riders, who rode all night under the menace of darkness and violence, and the people who marched into water cannons and snarling dogs over Selma's Edmund Pettis Bridge.
I remember James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, who gave their lives for civil rights, and got shot and buried for it in a Mississippi dam.
And four little girls — Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertston and Addie Mae Collins — in the basement of the 16th Street Church in Birmingham when a bomb went off that took their lives, and seared a nation's soul.
I'm remembering scores more people whose names I've forgotten, who sacrificed their lives to make America live up to its promise.
Barack Obama may be the most popular man in the world right now. Even those who have reservations about his experience and proposals acclaim his intelligence and eloquence.
A lot of people had predicted that America could never accept his election. Stealthy forces would buy votes, steal them or otherwise overturn democracy.
Instead, Obama's opponents have congratulated him graciously, and pledged their cooperation. So far, they even seem charmed.
Obama's approval rating will no doubt often fall as he has to make hard decisions.
But the United States has turned out to be capable of more change within just a generation or two — my own lifetime — than those who were implacably convinced that this country was irredeemably racist and impossible to change.
America may be a smaller, less dominant presence in the century ahead. But it is something rare and precious in this world: A society made up of — and made richer by — people from all over the world.
And a place where, the week ahead reminds us, people can turn history with their own hands.