Obama's Debt To The 'Moses Generation'

Barack Obama has acknowledged that he owes a great debt to the "Moses generation" of American civil rights-era leaders — activists who made it possible for him to lead his own "Joshua generation."

Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope that civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. fought for but never saw the "Promised land" of racial equality.

"I'm here because somebody marched," Obama said in a speech in Selma, Ala. "I'm here because you all sacrificed for me. I stand on the shoulders of giants."

Remnick is the editor-in-chief of The New Yorker, where his article "The Joshua Generation: Race and the campaign of Barack Obama" appeared on Nov. 17.

Key Historic Moments Set The Stage For Obama

Fannie Lou Hamer and Barack Obama

Fannie Lou Hamer's activism and role at the Democratic National Convention of 1968 set the stage for Barack Obama's historic nomination. Composite, Public Domain hide caption

itoggle caption Composite, Public Domain

The Democratic Party is on the cusp of nominating the first African-American presidential candidate from a major party.

How did black Americans reach a historic benchmark in the quest for political power?

The Emancipation Proclamation of 1865, issued at the end of the Civil War, theoretically gave blacks in America full citizenship rights.

But women of all races still couldn't vote, and during Jim Crow-era segregation, only a fraction of black Americans were able to use their voting rights.

But the Civil Rights Movement and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 radically changed the picture: Vast numbers of black Americans who had never before voted took to the polls.

In 1968, civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer mounted a rebellion within the Democratic Party and took her seat at the Chicago convention.

Four years later, New York Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm ran for president.

Later candidates for major party office included Democratic presidential candidates Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Carol Mosely Braun; as well as Republican Alan Keyes.

For more insight, Farai Chideya talks with Manning Marable, professor of history and public affairs at Columbia University and director of the Center for Contemporary Black History.

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