When US President Barack Obama sat on the seat that black civil rights activist Rosa Parks had refused to give up to a white man in a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, 57 years ago during the country's civil rights struggle, the symbolism of his act was clear to African-Americans.
Parks's act of defiance on December 1, 1955, emboldened Martin Luther King and others and ultimately led to the end of racial segregation in the US. "Rosa sat, so Martin could walk, so Obama could run, so our children can fly," ran the text from one voter when Obama ran for the presidency in 2008. So it was right for the newly elected president to pay homage this month to Rosa Louise McCauley Parks, who, like Mr Obama himself, was partly of Irish descent.
But what is the reality like behind such symbolism? How far has the first black president in America brought his fellow blacks? The answer is as mixed as it is complex. The segregated buses, the separate schools, the separate drinking fountains are long gone, yet it is impossible not to be shocked by how separately blacks and whites still live out their lives today in many parts of America.
About 20 years ago when I moved to New York with a news organisation, I was taken aback to see that of about 100 reporters only two were black, and this in the most multicultural city in the nation. A decade later, working in Washington, a city with a majority black population, the ratio had improved, but not dramatically.
The African-American jobless rate is still about twice that for whites. In last week's jobs report, the black rate was 13.2pc, while the white rate stood at 6.8pc. Discrimination has long been seen as the primary reason for this disparity. Blacks now make up 13pc of the US population, though they have been overtaken by those of Hispanic and Latino origin, who number 16pc.
Back in 2008, at the time of Mr Obama's inauguration, there was a real sense in Washington that race relations and opportunities for African-Americans were changing fundamentally. That year 52pc of Americans said they expected race relations to get better as a result of Mr Obama's election, while only 9pc anticipated a decline. But today that 43-point gap has vanished. According to a recent survey, only 32pc of Americans now think that race relations have improved since the inauguration, while roughly the same number (30pc) believe they have deteriorated.
But polls rarely tell the whole story. To find out more I asked some African-Americans for their perspective. Among them was 25-year-old Mark Allen, a screenwriter in Los Angeles. "He was the first black president, our president. And there was some part of me that thought it was validation that America, as if it were one mind, had finally accepted us.
"These are incredibly ridiculous thoughts, I realise as I express them, but nonetheless they were very real. So I suppose, if there has been any improvement in the lives of blacks, it is more internal."
But Mike Tucker, a 57-year-old African-American writer and producer in Virginia, who is married with one son, believes the Obama presidency is improving the overall quality of life of all Americans. "I would argue that African-Americans specifically may benefit because aspiring lawyers, community leaders, or politicians have a unique role model in the White House. But we're not a trans-racial society yet and it seems class trumps colour for many."
An African-American I met at Obama's inauguration four years ago may have summed up best what the Obama presidency means to his fellow blacks. The man, who was in his late 70s, had tears in his eyes as he recalled an incident growing up in Macon, Georgia, when the Ku Klux Klan terrorised blacks.
One night when he was about 11 he was sheltering in a barn with his father when someone told them that the klan were coming to burn down the barn. He remembered the loud banging on the door as he and his father jumped out a window and fled to safety. When he looked back the barn was in flames. "It's different today. We have a black president. That means everything to me."