Was race not the biggest, most confusing totem on the American political horizon? I understood that in Barack Obama had been elected to the Senate. I understood about the New South. I was in Virginia when Doug Wilder became lieutenant governor, and I had covered the campaign when he became the first black governor elected in the nation's history.
History takes the slow boat and the long way out. Indeed, to the extent that the South has grown increasingly hostile to Democrats for more than a generation, it was the party's positions on race and civil rights that made it so unpalatable to so many Southern whites. So how much has the country changed?
This is the question of the moment as we watch the mutations in our national racial DNA triggered by Barack Obama's presidential campaign.
Obama, we are reminded constantly, is a singular political talent. But he is in many ways the full flowering of a strain of up-tempo, non-grievance, American-Dream-In-Color politics. His counterparts are young, Ivy League professionals, heirs to the civil-rights movement who are determined to move beyond both the mood and the methods of their forebears. Ford went to Penn as an undergrad and law school at Michigan; his father studied mortuary science and went into the family's funeral-home business before going into politics. These new leaders are not what used to be called race men.
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They argue, somewhat convincingly, that they don't need to concern themselves primarily with the uplift of their race. They appeal to black voters, to be sure, but to white ones as well. They talk about income inequality, not black unemployment. They rail against inadequate educational opportunities, not the endemic poverty in black neighborhoods that results.
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They attack globalization and outsourcing, not necessarily the loss of high-wage, low-skill manufacturing jobs that built and sustained large working- and middle-class black communities after World War II. And they don't want to be just mayors or congressmen from majority-black districts.
They want to be governors, senators, and presidents. They are mostly Democrats, but they also include a handful of Republicans -- Michael Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, who was the unsuccessful GOP nominee for the Senate in , and former Oklahoma Congressman J.
Watts -- who as a matter of ideology have been preaching that the old racial calculus ought to be a less prominent feature in our politics and our lives. His odds are long, but more importantly, he is on a short list of very serious candidates, and his race is no longer the inherent bar to victory it once had been. Much has changed for the black politician. African Americans, despite their loyalty to the Democrats, are no longer united by the urgent and singular need to end racial injustice.
And white Americans are far more open to black candidates than ever before, opening up a far wider array of public offices than was available a generation ago. This has allowed the new black politician to craft a message that appeals to a broader constituency, a message that is not steeped in race. Compelled to reach beyond what is perceived as their natural political base, these candidates and their message may hold the keys to the future of the Democratic Party.
It is a message that eschews divisions, particularly racial ones; it taps into an optimism, real or manufactured, that we are all in this together, full of possibility; and it avoids the negative and what detractors call victimhood.
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Patrick's campaign slogan in Massachusetts was, "Together We Can," and it is no coincidence that Patrick had the same political consultants as Obama, whose senate-campaign slogan was, "Yes, We Can. This is, in essence, the message of the Democratic Party, which has been accused, sometimes fairly, of being less a party than a collection of interest groups.
And there may be no more treacherous ground for a Democratic candidate to traverse than addressing the concerns of black voters, crucial to any success, while not seeming beholden to them. Actually, the job may be easier for black Democratic politicians, who can preach togetherness with a reduced burden of having to establish their bona fides with black voters.
Young, Black, and Post-Civil Rights
Obama is doing all this, but he is not the first. When I met with Ford in , he was 34 and had been elected to the House five times, each time with between 60 percent and 80 percent of the vote, from his majority-black district in Memphis. His father, Harold Ford Sr.
But the younger Ford was moving on, building himself into the prototype crossover black candidate -- moderate, affable, eloquent -- who would win state and national elections. It was, after all, four years before Obama's big speech at the Democratic Convention that Al Gore chose Ford to deliver the keynote address at the party's convention in Los Angeles.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Rustin was eventually sentenced to work on a chain gang. An openly gay man, Rustin also advocated for LGBT rights and spent 60 days in jail for publicly engaging in homosexual activity. James Farmer sits next to a uniformed officer in the back of a police wagon in April While trying to organize protests in Plaquemine, Louisiana, in , state troopers armed with guns, cattle prods and tear gas, hunted him door to door, according to CORE's website, which noted that Farmer eventually went to jail on charges of "disturbing the peace.
Hosea Williams center and some of his "poor people," appear at a news conference in July Twelve years later, he joined King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference as an officer, assisting with black voter registration drives in the Freedom Summer of Along with Lewis, he also played a leadership role in the March to Montgomery that became known as "Bloody Sunday. Williams, who witnessed King's assassination, was elected to the Georgia State Assembly in Whitney Young Jr.
Throughout his 10 years in the position, he took up the cause of equal opportunities for black in industry and government service. Johnson, and his Domestic Marshall Plan is said to have heavily influenced s federal poverty programs. Young received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in Roy Wilkins l pickets outside of a Woolworth's department store in Jackson, Mississippi. Du Bois as the editor of the organization's official magazine, Crisis , in A subscriber to the philosophy that reform is best achieved via legislation, Wilkins testified before Congress multiple times and also consulted for several U.
The minister peacefully delivered his message of racial inequality until he was assassinated in The Civil Rights leaders did not see to eye to eye, and their encounter lasted minutes. In public, the men were diametrically opposed. In private, they identified with one another. On the final day of Black History Month, we're taking a look at how young people played a pivotal role in the early Civil Rights Movement.
The religious reformer and civil rights icon were born a half-millennium and thousands of miles apart, but shared many similarities, besides their name.
Leading the Charge for Civil Rights Change
Today we celebrate educators and civil rights activists Harry T. To celebrate the iconic civil rights leader, enjoy 17 inspiring and aspirational quotes from his famous speeches and writings.
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