Clinton vs. Obama: Lest We Forget
Please note: Gail has shamelessly stolen this great blog off the Huffington Post, assuming that our site is so small that this theft will not be noticed :) . It's an essay by Clarence B. Jones, the former personal counsel, advisor, draft speech writer and close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
So, as we approach November 2008, the burning question has been and will remain: What will it be? The historic opportunity to elect the first woman or first African American male as president of the
There are few white women for whom I have more respect than Gloria Steinem, an ideological Godmother of the women's movement. In a recent op-ed column in the New York Times about the Obama vs.
I am 77 years old, male and black. My experience in our country, as an African-American, and the reality of American history contravenes the assumption underlying Ms Steinem's thesis: women in the United States have been equally or more oppressed, excluded and discriminated against than African American men, writing in her op-ed, "Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House." As evidence she cites the historical fact that "Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot..." That historical anomaly standing alone, however, obscures the reality that white middle class women, as a group, have been one of the principal beneficiaries of Dr. King's legacy of struggle for racial justice and gender equality.
Further, the forefathers and foremothers of white middle class women in
Which brings me to Senator Clinton's recent comments, presumably, to contrast her qualifications for president with those of Senator Obama, comparing herself to President Lyndon Johnson with the words, "It took a president to get it done." My longevity as a personal counsel and a draft speech writer for my beloved friend, Martin Luther King, Jr., has blessed me with the memory and the obligation of a living witness. The challenge confronting me and others, who worked with Dr. King, is how to set the record straight without appearing to third parties, especially the media, to be playing the so-called "race card". The absence of such raced based politics is what may be part of the unexpected broad appeal of the Obama candidacy.
I would like to remind all the candidates that this is the week of Dr. King's 79th birthday. Distorted application or misappropriation of his legacy for self serving political purposes by any candidate besmirches this legacy. Less there be some question about the roles of Martin Luther King and President Lyndon Johnson, let me "make it plain": the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was not principally because of President Lyndon B. Johnson. It was because of Martin Luther King, Jr. LBJ was only responding to what Martin often said, quoting Victor Hugo in Les Miserables, that "There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world and that is an idea whose time has come." The passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was "an idea whose time had come"; a direct result of those hundreds of thousands of people marching in the streets across our country under Dr. King's leadership and not because "it. took a president to get it done."
Often during municipal, state or federal political campaigns, various parties seek to appropriate one or more excerpts from Martin's speeches or writings in support of their immediate political objective. This is understandable. Dr. King left such an extraordinary imprint upon our nation's DNA. Without proposing or recommending any choice between Senators Clinton or Obama and the other remaining candidates for the Democratic Party's nomination, one would have to be brain dead or suffer from amnesia not to see the haunting parallel between Senator Obama's candidacy and the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. On
The candidacy of Senator Barack Obama may just be part of the Promised Land that Martin believed we as a people would get to, even though he prophetically said he may not there with us. The possible election of Senator Obama in 2008 as President of the
Finally, a caution, if not a warning, to President Clinton, Senator Clinton and their campaign advisors: You run the risk of dissipating, corrupting, if not destroying, the justifiably deserved and accumulated positive capital and goodwill you have earned among black people from President and Senator Clinton's own history of struggle for racial justice. Few public officials, especially President Clinton, like Senator John Edwards, a son of the white south, have transcended the segregationist's racist conditions of their southern upbringing, and committed their lives to racial justice. As such they have earned their "credentials" among black people. Prior to the current election contest, President Clinton was belovedly characterized by many African Americans as "
I suspect to some African Americans, especially older parents and grandparents, Senator Obama is symbolic and/or represents their sons and grandsons, for whom most have sacrificed to get them an education and succeed. Good faith questions about qualifications and experience are always appropriate about a candidate who seeks the nomination of his party to be president. However, gratuitous attacks against Obama or sarcastic paternalism dismissing his "qualifications" to be President of the
In the name of my beloved friend Martin, I beseech all candidates to pause in a moment of reflection and consider whether what you do and say to get elected as president either enhances or diminishes the ultimate sacrifice that Dr. King made so that you are in a viable position to be in the presidential race in 2009.
Clarence B. Jones is the former personal counsel, advisor, draft speech writer and close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He is a Scholar in Residence at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Institute at