The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education
Barack Obama is the Superior Choice for African-American Voters
by Theodore Cross
For the first time in the history of our country, a black man has a credible chance of becoming president of the United States. After the long nightmare years of slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow, and enduring race discrimination, one would expect that, in the upcoming presidential primary contest, Illinois Senator Barack Obama would be the overwhelming choice of black American voters.
Not so! National polls show that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are drawing about equal shares of the black vote.
The standard explanation is that Hillary Clinton is the inherited winner of solid numbers of black voters because of the tremendous popularity of her husband among African Americans. We all remember how President Bill Clinton campaigned in black neighborhoods and churches, showed compassion and deep concerns for poor blacks, and sought out the opinions, advice, and even the forgiveness of black leaders. His remarkable ability to relate to African Americans, a quality missing among almost all white politicians, earned President Clinton both loyalty and affection among many millions of African Americans. In fact, he was so admired in the African-American community that in 1998 Princeton professor and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison called him our first black president.
But Bill Clintons success in winning the affection of African
Americans is only part of the story. Senator Hillary Clinton in her own
right has turned out to be an appealing candidate for black voters. In
her so-called Team Hillary, she has assembled highly effective
organizations of dedicated supporters in black communities throughout
the nation. Her campaigns legal counsel is the widely admired
African-American lawyer Cheryl Mills, the former White House deputy
counsel who defended Bill Clinton in his impeachment trial in the U.S.
Senate. In key states where the black vote is large, and possibly
critical in primary outcomes, she has recruited skilled and experienced
African-American advisory groups. At the grass roots, Team Hillary has
placed scores of faithful bands of African-American campaign workers
scattered about in key parts of the country.
Senator Clinton has won a number of flat-out endorsements from influential African Americans. Her supporters include Philadelphia Mayor John Street, former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, author and poet Maya Angelou, composer and recording mogul Quincy Jones, and Robert L. Johnson, founder of the influential Black Entertainment Television network. Already she has the important backing of at least seven members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
In the style of President Bill Clinton before her, she makes regular appearances at black churches where she pays homage to black civil rights pioneers. She artfully uses Bible references and religious imagery to endear herself to black congregations. Last spring Hillary Clinton won glowing praise from the black press when she joined dozens of Americas most famous black leaders in singing We Shall Overcome at the sacred shrine of black America, the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Successfully sidestepping charges of pandering to black voters, she deftly shifts to a southern drawl as she sings the popular black hymn:
I dont feel no ways tired. We got to stay awake.
We have a march to finish.