Civil Rights March To Inauguration: What's Next
LIANE HANSEN, Host:
This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen. The much anticipated inauguration of Barack Obama as president of the United States is now only a few days away. Over the past month, we've been broadcasting a series of conversations with NPR News analyst Juan Williams about the intersection of history and politics when America's first black president is sworn in. Juan has written extensively about race and civil rights. And today, we're going to talk about how this president is likely to deal with race. First, here is candidate Obama talking about the Reverend Jeremiah Wright during his now famous speech on race in March of last year.
(SOUNDBITE OF MARCH 2008 CAMPAIGN)
BARACK OBAMA: I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother, a woman who helped raised me, a woman who sacrificed, again and again, for me, a woman who loves as me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who pass her by on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
HANSEN: That's President-elect Barack Obama during his campaign in March of 2008. Now, to Juan Williams. Welcome back, Juan.
JUAN WILLIAMS: Good to be with you, Liane.
HANSEN: We've been talking about the power of the Voting Rights Act going back into history, the emergence of black politics. How does Barack Obama fit in this tradition?
WILLIAMS: Well, he's the first viable black candidate for president of the United States. And what distinguishes him as such, really, is that fact that he is a crossover candidate. You think back to others such Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Alan Keyes - none of these people would you characterize as viable to win the nomination. And Barack Obama, from the very start, seemed to be an outsider, but everyone took him seriously as a candidate for president of the United States.
HANSEN: Remind us a little bit about how the issue of race was talked about during the campaign.
WILLIAMS: Now, the last group to come along was an older generation of black politicians. The model for this older generation of black politician was someone who was a spokesman for the black community, and it was still on a segregated model. Barack Obama's whole model is contrary to that. He is a politician sitting there who just happens to be black.
HANSEN: Hmm. So, two things then, is Barack Obama now creating a new era in black politics? And if so, what does this mean for the older generation?
WILLIAMS: Well, the older generation, in a sense, is in shock. They've never dealt with anybody like this. He doesn't come out of the pulpit, so he's not a minister, which is another tradition of black leadership. He doesn't come out of established black politics. He didn't come up as a local city councilman, school board member, mayor and...
HANSEN: He lost a congressional seat to a former Black Panther.
WILLIAMS: To Bobby Rush. When Barack Obama ran against Bobby Rush, Barack Obama once said to me that he was told by many of the voters, you know what? Wait your turn, young man. You know, you haven't exactly proven yourself to us yet.
HANSEN: Is it possible that black America, you know, that, I guess collective that we use, will be disappointed with its first black president?
WILLIAMS: So, this is a new era in black politics, you get people like Artur Davis, the congressman from Alabama or Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, New Jersey. I remember when Cory Booker was running at one point against Sharpe James, his predecessor, Sharpe James said, we don't have time to teach you how to be black. The whole idea was, you know what? You have to wait. Well, now with Barack Obama as president, that older generation finds the time for the younger generation to wait has passed.
HANSEN: NPR News analyst Juan Williams is the author of "Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years," the companion book to the acclaimed PBS series. He's also the writer of a biography Thurgood Marshall and "My Soul Looks Back in Wonder: Voices of the Civil Rights Experience." Juan, good to see you, again.
WILLIAMS: Liane, this has been a joy for me. Thank you for inviting me.
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