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South Carolina Voters React to Skirmish over Race
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South Carolina Voters React to Skirmish over Race

Election 2008

South Carolina Voters React to Skirmish over Race

South Carolina Voters React to Skirmish over Race
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Political Junkie

There are signs that an ugly spat over race between Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama might be calming down.

The two camps have been embroiled in a back-and-forth after Clinton tried to clarify her remarks about the role the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. played in getting the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed. The former first lady was quoted as saying King's dream of racial equality was realized only when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark legislation. Obama took issue with the remark.

Both campaigns, however, seem eager to soften the rhetoric.

South Carolina's Democratic primary is nearly two weeks away, and more than half of the electorate is expected to be African American.

Mac's on Main is a popular soul food restaurant in South Carolina's capital, Columbia. It is run by chef and City Councilman Barry Walker. The walls are decorated with signed, framed photos of blues greats like B.B. King and laminated maps of his council district. Walker is undecided but said he is unhappy with the direction the Clinton campaign has taken.

"I think they are going for broke now, going for whatever they can do," he said.

Referring to an incident on the eve of the New Hampshire primary in which Clinton became teary-eyed while speaking to voters, Walker said, "crying isn't going to help here."

"She can cry all she wants, (but) black people have been crying for years. What's going to help here is addressing the issues that are affecting us," he said.

Joseph Free of Columbia, who was dining at the restaurant, agreed.

"They (are) … getting into the part I was hoping wouldn't happen … (turning) the thing into a race problem," he said.

Free's comments reflect a kind of collective disappointment in the black community, according to Todd Shaw, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina.

"I think that African-American voters are wise in the sense that they know there is more to come. That is the fear," he said.

Shaw said there is particular frustration at the Clinton camp's tactic of having other blacks, such as BET founder Bob Johnson, go after Obama. They are especially disappointed in the role former President Bill Clinton is playing.

Those sentiments were echoed across town at the historically black Benedict College where Kathryn Jones of Columbia, and Brenda Walker of Irmo, work. The women were split about what to make of Bill Clinton's critical comments of Obama.

"I don't hold it against him," Walker said.

Jones said she wasn't planning to vote for Hillary Clinton anyway, but "as a former president, I had high regards for (Bill Clinton) and he lost some points from me."

Hillary Clinton has her first chance to repair relations with the black community Tuesday, when she will join Obama, as well as John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich in a debate in Las Vegas.

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