You May Not Get There with Me: Obama and the Black Political Establishment

Kareem U. Crayton, You May Not Get There with Me: Obama and the Black Political Establishment, in Barack Obama and African American Empowerment: The Rise of Black America’s New Leadership 195 (Manning Marable & Kristen Clarke eds., 2009).

Abstract:  According to Debra Dickerson, Barack Obama was not “black” in the traditional sense of the word. He did not grow up in a traditional African American family nor experience life in a black community since his native Hawai’i does not have a significant African American population. At the start of his campaign, Obama found his principal support in white liberals but was largely unknown to black communities outside Illinois. He faced the additional challenge of facing Hillary Clinton, a well-known politician especially among African Americans, in the primaries. The author concludes that Obama’s successful campaign is due in large part to his political strategy: using his relationship with three prominent public figures to find the support of African Americans while still maintaining his white liberal supporters.

The chapter focuses on the important roles that Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Emil Jones, Jr., and Jesse Jackson played in Obama’s campaign. Wright helped Obama obtain acceptance in the black community, aided him in developing a cultural and religious identity with which the black community could connect, and as the pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, gave Obama a forum in which to find a base of support. Jones helped Obama in the field of legislation. He designated Obama as a spokesperson for important legislation, protected Obama on controversial issues, and aided him through the redistricting process. Finally, while not having a close tie to Obama, Jackson pioneered the strategy used in Obama’s campaign in mobilizing new voters. His reforms of the Democratic Party’s selection system also significantly benefited the current president.

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