Barack Obama and the African-American Vote On Saturday, Sen. Barack Obama rode a wave of support from African-American voters to an overwhelming victory in South Carolina's Democratic primary. In a special broadcast from Morgan State University, Neal Conan hosts a discussion about the intersection of race and politics.
NPR logo

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/18576275/18576272" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Barack Obama and the African-American Vote

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/18576275/18576272" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan. And we're broadcasting today from the Turpin-Lamb Theater in the Carl Murphy Fine Arts Center at Morgan State University in Baltimore.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: A week ago, we talked about women and the candidacy of Senator Hillary Clinton. Today, we focus on African-Americans and Senator Barack Obama. His campaign has already made history. He's the first African-American candidate to be counted among the frontrunners for a major party nomination. By this time next week, he may be the favorite. But his candidacy also stirs complex feelings within the black community. Today, African-Americans and Senator Obama.

If you are an African-American voter, we want to hear from you today. How do you feel about the possibility that an African-American may be elected president? Are you afraid, excited? Do you feel an obligation to vote for him? Are you feeling pressured to vote for him?

As usual, our number is 800-989-8255. E-mail, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog. That's at npr.org/blogofthenation. And we're going to be taking questions from people here in the audience at Morgan State.

But we begin with Michel Martin. She's the host of NPR's TELL ME MORE, and she's reported extensively on black voters.

And Michel, thanks very much for coming up to Baltimore today.

MICHEL MARTIN: Thank you for inviting me.

CONAN: And I know you just got back from South Carolina. You heard a lot of different views from a lot of different African-Americans. Tell us a few of them.

MARTIN: Well, one of the things that I thought was interesting, is that I think that there may be the false perception now that African-American voters are sort of automatically line-up behind Barack Obama. That's simply not true. Our member station in South Carolina, ETV, conducted a poll in conjunction with Winthrop University in September. And back then, Obama only had a very slight edge over Hillary Clinton. Among African-American women, it was within the margin of error. The numbers were something like 30.7 percent for Hillary Clinton, 35.4 percent for Obama.

Even among African-Americans who said their identity was - their race was a very big part of their identity, there really wasn't that much of an advantage that Obama had. Maybe five points, which again, is barely beyond the margin of error. So I guess, the point I would make is it's not just that he's an African-American. It's the African-American he is.

CONAN: Hmm.

MARTIN: It's the kind of campaign he ran. It's the kind of messages he delivered. And I would also argue that I don't think he closed the deal until the very last minute because when we were down there, you could have - just based on our, you know, walking around, talking to people, I know that's unscientific, but you would have thought it was a three-way tie because everybody we talked to was like, Obama, Clinton, Edwards. Obama, Clinton, Edwards.

And from what people told me, unless they were just telling me what they - you know, they thought I wanted to hear, I don't know, just to give me a more interesting story, people were - they were torn.

CONAN: Why were they torn? You'd think, on the face of it, this would be simple.

MARTIN: Why would you think that?

CONAN: Well, there'd be so much pride, so much identification, so much - a person like them. But is Barack Obama, in fact, a person like most of the people you talked to in South Carolina?

MARTIN: Well, Neal, you know, you have the advantage of being able to see me in person. I think you could probably tell that I'm a girl.

CONAN: Uh-huh.

MARTIN: And a lot of voters are girls, and they find it equally compelling, many of them, to offer a woman an opportunity to vote. Even African-American women. There are African-American women who say that they just feel that as women, that those were equally challenging. In fact, I think Shirley Chisholm, who was the first African-American to run for the White House back in 1968, she was my congresswoman, so a shout-out to Shirley Chisholm.

(Soundbite of applause)

MARTIN: She often remarked privately, though she didn't express this publicly, that she felt her gender was as much of an impediment to her accomplishments as her race. Now, everybody doesn't feel that way, but some people do. That's thing one. Thing two is there was a - what - name recognition. Hillary Clinton, the Clintons as a couple, a very well known in the African-American community. So this - the idea that African-Americans automatically line up behind an African-American is just simply not true. I mean, if that were case, then Ken Blackwell would be governor of Ohio, then Alan Keyes, for heaven's sake, would be a senator from Illinois. So…

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Or maybe Maryland.

MARTIN: Or Maryland…

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: …or who, you know, who knows where else? As I said, it's the fact that Barack Obama had to close the deal just like any other candidate would. And he did so. And I further point out, he ran a brilliant campaign in South Carolina. People down there tell me it was the best run campaign some of them have ever seen.

CONAN: Also joining us today in Theater Morgan is Keli Goff. She's the author of the forthcoming book "Party Crashing: How the Hip-Hop Generation Declared Political Independence."

And thank you for being with us here today in Baltimore.

Ms. KELI GOFF (Author, "Party Crashing: How the Hip-Hop Generation Declared Political Independence"): Thanks so much for inviting me.

CONAN: And your book is at least in part about how the younger generation of African-Americans is not the same politically as their elders. How are they breaking for Barack Obama?

Ms. GOFF: Well, you know, I actually - I've heard the Obama camp use the term, the Obama generation, and The New York Times did a bit of a thumb about that as well. But in my book, I have a chapter called "The Rise of Generation Obama." And it's specifically about this post-civil rights generation and the political ideology that they seem to embody, which is very different from our parents and grandparents. Those are my peers that I'm writing about.

And I'd say the biggest difference is the fact that for my parents' generation, and certainly, my grandparents, the issue of race and civil rights is not one issue - is not just one issue, it's the defining political issue for them. And so, I once heard someone say that the reason that the Right to Life Movement has been so powerful is because when they step into the voting booth, they vote the issue of - they vote the issue abortion first, second and third. Whereas, people who might be in support of abortion rights would have see it as like, well, you know, I am pro-choice, but I really like this guy, so I can sort of look the other way.

And that's sort of how civil rights has been for members of the civil rights generation. Whereas for members of the post civil rights generation, the hip-hop generation or so-called generation Obama, as I like to call them, it's really one issue among many. And so it allows them to look at a variety of issues and look at candidates a bit differently because they, of course, they're concerned about issues like affirmative action, but they're also concerned about economic policy.

They're also concerned about the war in Iraq. They're also concerned about terrorism. They're concerned about, they have different perspectives on different things like gay rights. So I say all that to say that they look very closely at the candidates that they identify with. That's thing number one.

Thing number two, you know, I definitely had this conversation, we've seen this in my own family where people who remember the dark days of segregation, my parents, you know, are from the segregated South. I was a quote/unquote, surprise - we're very sensitive about the term accident - so surprise.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GOFF: And because of that, my parents were a bit older. And so, you know, both of my parents were among the first to integrate their junior highs, their high schools. And you know, my mother experienced things like being spit on. You know, how someone called her the N word every day. An experience I clearly cannot relate to.

And so I say that to say that for someone like me, it is not a structure of the imagination to say that I live in a country where a black man could become president. And whereas for my parents and my grandparents, it's still a bit of a stretch, you know, it's still of a bit of a stretch. And even when they look at someone like Barack Obama and think, wow, he's great, he's so qualified. There's still a part of them that struggles with what's really going to happen if he gets the nomination. Like, what's really going to happen when people step into the voting booths. So I think those are the biggest differences.

CONAN: Hmm. Let's get a question from here in the audience at Morgan State. Two more left. If you tell us who - what your name is and then ask your question.

Ms. ETHEL HILL: Yeah. Well, my name is Ethel Hill(ph). And it's a comment.

CONAN: Go ahead.

Ms. HILL: I'm clearly not of the hip-hop generation, but I'm from the segregated North. That's where I grew up. I never thought I'd live to see the day when a qualified person who happens to be black is considered a serious contender for the office of president of this United States.

Recently, I wrote a letter to the editor, which I shared with a number of people, and I talked about the fact that Obama represents what any mother would want in her son. And there are lots of Obamas in the black community.

Unidentified Man #3: Amen.

Ms. HILL: And…

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. HILL: But because that's not newsworthy, the perception of the general public is that most black men are pimps, don't work, you know, and are not about anything. But I know a lot of real fathers, real men in the black community. And when I shared that letter, which were the letter to the editor that I happen to e-mail because I know the power of it, I was just so surprised at the number of men who called me or e-mailed me, black men, and said, thank you so much. Because they've been so dissed, you know, and overlooked that people don't know that they're there. So as I said, Obama happens to be black, but he's qualified. And I couldn't live myself if I didn't give that brother my vote.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: Michel Martin, Barack Obama may do many things, but he's certainly not the Invisible Man.

MARTIN: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Certainly not. Certainly not. I (unintelligible). It's Ms. Hill? No, I just was - it's Ms. Hill. I just think that she's tapped into an important point, which is that is that - for many people, this is - Barack Obama is just a surprising character, but not for everyone. He's a familiar character. He represents, as she said very eloquently, everybody's aspiration. He went to excellent schools, he works his way through, nothing was handed to him. I mean those - and also, let's also point out South Carolina, it's true, 89 percent of African-Americans voted for him, 24 percent of whites did in the three-way race. That's not a small thing.

CONAN: Let's get a caller on the line. And this is Satriya(ph), am I pronouncing that correctly?

SATIRYA (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Hello, am I pronouncing your name correctly, Satirya(ph)?

SATIRYA: Yes, hi.

CONAN: Go ahead. And in Manchester. Go ahead, please.

SATIRYA: I'm African-American, and I'm very proud of Barack Obama and to see that in this country that we can run in a competitive race. But I'm a woman first and I think that women have earned a shot at running this country as well as men. And so, therefore, I'm going to vote Hillary. I'll take my - I'll listen to my comments off the air.

CONAN: Okay, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it. And I wanted to ask you, Keli Goff, among younger African-American women, are some of them supporting Hillary Clinton for exactly that reason?

Ms. GOFF: Well, I'm sure, I mean, I think - again, going back to what I said earlier, one of the greatest and most significant political evolutions that's occurred within the black community is this idea of having the right not to, for there not to be a singular, quote/unquote, black political thought.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. GOFF: They can't see me doing the bunny ears, but I'm doing the bunny ears…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GOFF: …because I quote/unquote. And, you know, I think a lot of people forget that that's really what the civil rights movement fought for, isn't it? It's for us to have the right to have an individual identity and get to the point where we could do that not to our ultimate detriment, right? Because there was a time when the only way to survive is for every single black American to line up in unison for a universal goal whether you were, you know, a wealthy entertainer like Harry Belafonte or you were a maid who was cleaning the hotels he was staying in. At the end of the day, they were both - both of you couldn't drink from certain water fountains. And so, there is a need to team up together to get certain goals. And the idea was that we would get to a point, right, where we could say to each other, you know, I think one way, I feel another. And that's certainly what his candidacy is showing.

CONAN: We're broadcasting from Baltimore, Maryland today, from the campus of Morgan State University, talking about black voters and the Obama candidacy. When we return, we'll talk about obligation as in a historic opportunity. If you're black, do you have a responsibility to vote for Obama? 800-989-8255, e-mail is talk@npr.org.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan on the campus of Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: Senator Barack Obama's candidacy represents a singular moment for black voters, and it generates a wide array of opinions. We've already heard a few. With us in the Turpin-Lamb Theater today is Michel Martin, the host of NPR's TELL ME MORE. We've also got Keli Goff with us. She's the author of "Party Crashing: How the Hip-Hop Generation Declared Political Independence."

We want to hear from callers today, as well as from our audience here at Morgan State. How do you feel about the possibility an African-American maybe elected president? If you're black, do you feel an obligation to vote for him? Do you feel pressured to vote for him? And if he is elected, what do you think his obligation is to the black community? 800-989-8255, e-mail us, talk@npr.org.

And let me introduce a couple of other guests. Raymond Winbush is also here with us. He walked right over from his office today. He's director of the Institute for Urban Affairs here at Morgan State University. Thanks very much for being with us.

Professor RAYMOND WINBUSH (Director, Institute for Urban Affairs, Morgan State University): Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: And we're also joined by Michael Fauntroy…

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: Didn't know you had any fans in the audience, Michael.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Anyway, Michael Fauntroy is the assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University, author of "Republicans and the Black Vote." And thank you very much for being us as well.

Professor MICHAEL FAUNTROY (Assistant Professor of Public Policy, George Mason University): Thank you, Neal.

(Soundbite of applause)

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Got some new fans here. I'd like to start with you, Professor Winbush. We touched briefly on this idea of obligation. Do you believe you have a responsibility to vote for Senator Obama?

Prof. WINBUSH: I feel like I have a responsibility to vote and, you know, at this point, I am going to be voting for Obama, no doubt in my mind about it. But you know Neal, I think there's an elephant in the room, and it's called white folks. And what I'm - the reason why I'm saying that is because - just as many of us in the black community are surprised that there's an African-American candidate, there's a lot of white folks that are surprised that there's an African-American candidate. This is the first time in American history on the Democratic side that white males do not have a choice if they're going to vote their race or their gender.

CONAN: In the Democratic Party.

Prof. WINBUSH: In the Democratic Party. And it's interesting that Michel was saying that - you know, in South Carolina, I was looking at - you know, everybody was inhabiting the beauty shops, asking black women, are they conflicted. So, I hope that, you know, media outlets like CNN will also do a segment in a white barber shop with white males, saying, are white men going to vote their gender for Obama, or their race for Hillary. And I doubt if you'll see those stories. So, I think that, you know, what we got to do is look at - you know, I have an incredible amount of pride in Obama. You know, I talked with my friends, with the school in Chicago and I talked to my friends in Chicago and this guys is like, - like the sister said in the audience, I mean, pristine, loves his wife. I mean, truly loves his wife. I also think that he was helped in South Carolina by Billary because I think that the black community saw Bill Clinton wide open in all of his glory playing the race card. And when he's asked - when Obama's asked - you know, race card - is he playing the race card, I think, in fact, you can only play the cards that are dealt to you. And I think the race card was dealt directly to Obama in that race.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Yet, there is a strain of opinion that we've heard from time to time of people saying, if you're black and you do not vote for Senator Obama, you're a race traitor.

Prof. WINBUSH: Well, but we heard that about Jesse, we heard it out about Sharpton, and to a lesser degree, I'm old enough to remember Sister Chisholm's candidacy in this late '60s. You know, I think this time, people see Obama broader than those other candidates. And I think that's why - I have never heard in my life, black folk talking about politics so much, and I think what it Obama's done across the board, not only in the black community but in the white community, he's energized those groups that traditionally stay away from the poll. I mean, you can hear brothers in the barbershops, saying, man, you're both voting for Obama. And there is that pressure, but I think it's a historical issue about why we now have somebody who could actually get the prize.

CONAN: Keli Goff?

Ms. GOFF: I think that the editing that we have to be mindful to and, you know, Michel touched upon that before, is he has a stellar resume.

Prof. WINBUSH: Right.

Ms. GOFF: A stellar resume. And I think that the difference here is that when it came to someone like Dr. Jackson, Al Sharpton, there's a lot of talk about a symbolic candidacy than running to bring issues to the table. And even their staunchist supporters, not expecting him to win, but wanting to send a message. And then you look at someone like Obama who has the stellar resume, has already, you know, accomplished some amazing significant version, he's first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review. Harvard. I mean, how old is that university that it's never had a black editor of the Law Review, and he was the first. And so, I think that that's the number one. I think the number two, that there's been a bit of a backlash to this whole black enough argument.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. GOFF: I think that, eventually, what Ms. Hill said, it really - I know hankered a lot of my friends. It really touched upon this dirty little secret we don't need to talk about in public, in front of whites, in the black community which is the oreo argument. That if you are too smart, too accomplished, get along too well in the white world that you are in some ways, not black enough. And it's such a soft sabotaging ideology that to then look at someone who's as qualified - whether you think he's qualified or you're not, has these stellar qualifications and say, well, thereby, he's not black enough, I think it insulted a lot of blacks, who then said, you know, how could you not support him? How could you not do it?

CONAN: Mm. Let's turn to Professor Fauntroy. And the greater majority of African-Americans in this country are registered Democrats as we listen to Keli Goff, we learned that that's not quite as true for younger, but there are black independents and black conservatives. Does Barack Obama reach out to them as well?

Prof. FAUNTROY: Yes. In fact, you know, I do a radio show in Chicago on Mondays and had someone call in once and identified themselves as an Obama Republican, which I guess is sort of like the Reagan Democrats from a generation ago. And it took me a while to sort of figure out what he was trying to say, but I think some of what - black Independents and black Republicans find is a frustration with the Republican Party. I can't tell you how many Republicans I had when I was researching in my book, come up to me and say, this party won't listen to us. So, even though they may disagree with Obama on policy, they respect the fact that he is a significant candidate, and therefore, are more open to him. And for Independents, more so than Republicans, but that's certainly the case.

CONAN: All of African-Americans are also pretty upset with the Democratic Party, which they feel takes them for granted.

Prof. FAUNTROY: Well, there's no question about that, but the reality is, we have a two-party system. And unless and until we figure out a way to create alternative parties that can win elections, you're going to have to deal with one party or the other. And when you compare the two parties down the line, in terms of which ones have - I hate to use this phrase - done the most for black folks.

CONAN: Uh-huh.

Prof. FAUNTROY: I think the Republicans come out woefully short. And so, the Democrats almost win by default at some level.

MARTIN: I just have to pick up on that…

CONAN: Michel Martin, go ahead.

MARTIN: I just have to pick up on this point because I think what Professor Fauntroy is saying, is that I think African-Americans vote their interests just like everybody else votes their interests. And it so happens that it has been appeared to African-Americans for the most part, since the Roosevelt era that Democrats - voting Democratic was in line with their interests. No matter what their income was, no matter what their background was, there are times when African-Americans, like in state races, do vote Republican. I mean, Connie Mack, got something like 22 percent of the African-American vote in Florida. I think Mike Huckabee got something like 40 percent of the African-American vote in Arkansas. He's former governor now running for president. So, I just think…

Prof. FAUNTROY: Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania.

MARTIN: …Arlen Specter - so if people vote their interest and it just so happens that in national races, the Republican Party tends to use these sort of race-based themes, which tend to be very offense attack to the Americans and it tends to alienate them. But there is a track record of African-Americans choosing candidates - it's not based on their race, but based on how they perceive them to line up with their interest, which is no different than any other voter.

CONAN: Now, let's get another question from the audience here in Baltimore. To my right.

Unidentified Woman #1: Yes. I'm part of the hip-hop generation also and I don't know if it's so much my upbringing or being part of a generation where we saw young black people become millionaires. But one of the things that I know is that it's not - black young people or black people in America are not proud to be - we're not able to be proud to be black. Whenever we are proud of being black, it's offensive or we're trying to be polarizing or we're trying to be racist. And because we are not able to show our pride, it kind of goes into our conversations that we have about Obama. Whereas in the past, we've been proud to publicly support white candidates, even though we're black, it almost feels like we're going to hurt Obama's chances if we're too enthusiastic about him, in front of other people. So, I feel like the conversations that we have by ourselves are totally different than the conversations that we have in public about Obama.

CONAN: Mm. One to Professor Winbush.

Prof. WINBUSH: Yeah.

CONAN: If you want, you can address that.

(Soundbite of applause)

Prof. WINBUSH: Well, she raises a good point. Right before coming here, I was teaching some teachers about young black males and one teacher told me at a elementary school here in Baltimore that she was not going to vote for Obama because she felt that if she did vote for him, he might get killed. You see, so she was - she wants him to win, but she's ambivalent about it. And I think the real issue of assassination is something that black folk talk about. I mean I've got a friend of mine who talks about keeping it real. And the fact of the matter is that I've heard black folk talk about that.

MARTIN: I can't tell you how often I have heard that in the last couple of months…

Prof. WINBUSH: Many times.

MARTIN: …all over the country from all kinds of people.

Prof. WINBUSH: Exactly. Yeah. Right. And it's something that - I mean it's like, you know, another elephant in the room about if you express too much enthusiast, as you just said, then somehow that's going to hurt him. And obviously, the best expression of it is the vote, as an expression of the enthusiasm. If you do that, you might contribute to his being killed. It's a macabre thing, but it's in there.

CONAN: Michael Fauntroy?

Prof. FAUNTROY: Yeah. You know, her comment also speaks to how race has this all twisted up…

Prof. WINBUSH: Yeah.

Prof. FAUNTROY: …as a society. You know, there's an additional part to that, sort of, inherent in her comment, and that is, you know, we want a black candidate but we should also want a black candidate who's going to do something about black issues. And at some level, we have focused so much on wanting a black president that we haven't sort of asked the accountability questions. And that is, so what are you going to do for us once we give you enough votes to become president?

CONAN: Hmm. Let's get a question now from a member of the audience here to my right. Mr. Washington(ph)?

Unidentified Woman #2: No.

CONAN: No, never mind. Let's go to the phones instead. And this is Titus(ph), and Titus - excuse me, I've hit the wrong - yeah, Titus is with us from Charleston, North Carolina.

TITUS (Caller): South Carolina.

CONAN: South Carolina. One of those Carolinas.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TITUS: Yes. My question was basically - well, actually, this is more of a comment and then a question. I don't think anyone's really given the thought to what would happen to this country if Barack Obama won the presidency and then was assassinated. Then, you know, what - I think that would tear this country apart. And number two is, you know, being a black man here in South Carolina, being a business owner here in South Carolina, it's kind of sad to see and to hear on your program the other day Southern white men saying that they would not vote for him.

They would prefer to vote for McCain rather than Obama simply because he's black. And it's really sad that race has to become such an issue in this campaign with a man that is qualified to be president such as Barack Obama. And I'd like your guest comment on that.

CONAN: Michael Fauntroy?

Prof. FAUNTROY: Yeah. But, you know, this is America. And race is the sort of undertow in the ocean of American culture and politics. It's omnipresent. It's always there. And with regards to South Carolina in particular, you know, yeah, even if Big Willie hadn't gone down and shot off his mouth the way he had…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. FAUNTROY: …you know, I still think that the numbers would have been fairly close to what they are because this is just the way it is. And it just seems to me that those folks who are likely to be leaning toward McCain because they're not comfortable with Obama's race, would have found a different reason to support McCain if Hillary Clinton were, for example, to get the nomination.

CONAN: Well, the guy who called yesterday was a Clinton supporter, and a Democrat and said that he would prefer to vote for McCain rather than the Democrat, Obama.

Prof. FAUNTROY: Well, that's how he identified himself.

CONAN: Yes, that's how he identified himself.

We're talking about Obama and African-American voters. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And now George(ph) is at the microphone here at Morgan State.

GEORGE: Hello. I'm a black person. But I'm a black person from Africa. And I also feel how proud to have a candidate like Obama running, especially that he has also some African roots. And - but my question was that I've heard some of the things that he talks about, especially on foreign policy. I've heard him talking about how he may attack Pakistan unilaterally, and he's talked about how he was to increase the size of the Army, if I'm correct. And for me, I thought is that good for black America and I asked myself a question, if he's elected, isn't it a way of putting a black face on some - of what some people can call American imperial projects?

CONAN: Hmm. Interesting point. And Michel Martin, it would not be the first time, obviously, Colin Powell was secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but nevertheless that's not the president of the United States.

MARTIN: No. but I think that the gentleman makes an interesting point. Is it - I think that Senator Obama can certainly speak for himself, but I think that he is progressive - considered a progressive on social issues. But I think in foreign policy matters, I think he is very much of a centrist. I think that is certainly going to become an issue in the fall campaign should he become the nominee.

And I think that the caller makes a very - I mean the listener rather makes a very important point, which is that people, again, have to look at policies at the end of the day. He's going to have to defend his policies and positions. And I think people will make their choice based on that.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Go ahead, Professor Winbush.

Dr. WINBUSH: Yeah. Just quickly on that point. I think also we have to look at anything that a candidate says during an election cycle as being tentative. In 2000 - I mean 2000, George Bush said that he didn't believe in nation building. So I mean, whatever, you know. I mean, so I think that…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. WINBUSH: I mean, I think that, you know. Barack reminds me of this book "The Spook who Sat by the Door" that, you know, I think that he's got to get there, folks, first. And then after he gets there, I think a lot of stuff is going to change. I really do.

CONAN: Quickly, Keli Goff.

Ms. GOFF: I just want to say really quickly, too, and to throw a bit of a grenade in here generationally speaking…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GOFF: …to cite one, which is that the whole concept of there being, quote/unquote, black issues, is really evolving and being redefined and definitely, along generational lines. One of the things I've done researching my book is the younger and this is what every passing generation, the farther we get away from the civil rights movement, this idea of their being cohesive black issues is falling by the way side.

There are always going to issues that affect African-Americans disproportionately because we tend to be poor. But this concept of there being a unified type of political thought is a notion that we can't rely on and to define our (unintelligible) anymore.

CONAN: Michael Fauntroy, very quickly.

Prof. FAUNTROY: I was just going to say quickly and respond to the question and comment, you know, I think Senator Obama's comments with regards to militarism are not for the consumption of black people. I think they're for the consumption of moderate whites who are concerned about what would happen to the country if there was some sort of military issue that came up under his watch.

And back to Ray Winbush's point, you know, what is said on the campaign almost means nothing once you get elected. And so I would also encourage people, so to keep it in mind because what's said in January of 2008 may not mean a thing in January of 2009.

CONAN: So much for the issues.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We're going to take a short break. And when we come back, continue talking about the Obama candidacy and African-American voters here at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, including, as we've already discussed a bit, the fears that go with this historic candidacy. Stay with us. If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Baltimore, Maryland, on the campus here at Morgan State University.

Today we're talking about the historic candidacy of Senator Barack Obama, the first African-American to be among the frontrunners for the White House.

We have a distinguished panel with us today. Michel Martin is the host of NPR's TELL ME MORE. Keli Goff is here. She's a political analyst and the author of "Party Crashing: How the Hip-Hop Generation Declared Political Independence." Also with us, Michael Fauntroy, assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University. And one of Morgan State's own, Ray Winbush, director of the Institute of Urban Affairs and author of "Should America Pay?: Slavery and the raging Debate on Reparations."

And, of course, we're going to be taking questions from the audience here at Morgan State. But we want to hear from listeners across the country as well. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. E-mail us, talk@npr.org. And you can check out what other listeners have to say on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Let's go to a question here at Morgan State.

Unidentified Man #4: Yes, I just simply want to know, do you think the attack by the older civil rights generation - I mean the older civil rights generation has severed the link with the younger hip-hop generation?

CONAN: Keli Goff?

Ms. GOFF: Do I think the attack on…

Unidentified Man #4: I'm sorry. Do you feel the attack by the older civil rights generation on Obama has severed the link to the hip-hop generation?

Ms. GOFF: I think that link was already severing. It just wasn't publicly doing so. This is the first situation that's really pushed it to the forefront where people are actually seeing it, particularly people outside the black community. I think that - I think there are number of things that play with that. I think that, you know, again, there's that perception I mentioned before about older black Americans just not believing that he's ever going to have a shot at winning.

There are older black Americans who have a relationship with the Clintons. I mean the Andrew Youngs of the world, the Vernon Jordans of the world, it's not that they perhaps don't like Obama, they've just simply been very close friends with Bill Clinton for 15 years. But then I do think there's another thing that no one has really likes to talk about. But I certainly heard privately which says, there seems to be a measure of resentment among some older black men which I've definitely heard - I've heard it on my own family, I've heard it in other people's families - of the sense sort of an uppity - young uppity upstart, there are being a lot of resentment that people like Obama, you know, he first ran against someone like Bobby Rush, someone like Congressman Artur Davis who's a Harvard classmate of Obama's, you know, ran against someone like Earl Hilliard. So there was bit of divide that…

CONAN: That he hasn't paid his dues also and…

Ms. GOFF: He hasn't paid his dies.

CONAN: Doesn't come out of the movement.

Ms. GOFF: Cocky upstart, doesn't come out of the movement, went to some fancy-schmancy Ivy League college. I've seen this written about. I mean people said this in interviews that they just were so suspicious of these, quote/unquote, kids, the Corey Bookers, the Obamas, the Davis, like who do they think they are. And on top of that, they get along really well with white people. It's like there's just something…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GOFF: …that's just suspicious and questionable there. So…

MARTIN: Which I find…

CONAN: Michel Martin?

MARTIN: Which I find remarkable, if you consider that, you know, Martin Luther King, Jr. had a PhD from Boston University at a time when a lot of African-Americans didn't go to college, a lot of white people didn't go to college. And, you know, with a leading civil rights leader - he was 26 years old. I think he led the Montgomery bus boycott when he was 26 years old. So I just find it remarkable that maybe this is just inevitable. Keli, you were saying that's kind of generational change that every generation complains about the generation that comes after it.

CONAN: What's wrong with these kids today. Michael Fauntroy?

Prof. FAUNTROY: That generational argument is really a microcosm of what's going on in the society, generally. There's always tension between younger generations and older generations. And the attack to which you just referred is a two-way attack because younger organizational leaders have for years, complained about the civil rights generation and not wanting to pass the torch to a new generation. So there's constant back and forth tension.

And I'm not at all surprised by it. You know, older African-Americans that I hear express reticence about Obama, absolutely look at him in terms that Keli just mentioned. But they also say, you know, he just doesn't have enough experience.

Dr. WINBUSH: Yeah…

Prof. FAUNTROY: You know, and as a result, for some people now, the concern about whether or not he has enough experience is seen as a proxy for a - or different reason to dislike Obama.

CONAN: Code.

Prof. FAUNTROY: yeah.

CONAN: All right. Professor Winbush?

Dr. WINBUSH: And to be just very quickly, I think within - it's very complex. For example, the Congressional Black Caucus is almost evenly split, and that's the civil rights generation, essentially, about Obama and Clinton.

Ms. GOFF: But they're also split along generational lines, within the Congressional Black Caucus, there's a huge split along generational lines.

MR. WINBUSH: There are. But then, you look at Charlie Rangold the other day, essentially called Obama stupid. And his wife went to a fundraiser for Obama last night, so even within households, you see splits.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's get a caller on the line. Tyron(ph) is with us from Sacramento in California.

TYRON (Caller): Hey, how you doing? A great show today.

CONAN: Thank you.

TYRON: I just wanted to talk about my family. I have a big family, and it's, it's mixed. And I'm getting a lot of pressure because I'm a Republican. I've been voting Republican for years since Reagan. But all of a sudden, you know, all - the black folk in my family are voting for Obama, and I'm supposed to do that, but then all the white folk in my family are voting for Hillary. All the women in the family are voting for Hillary. And there's, you know - my uncle, who's white, who is also a Republican, he's not getting pressured because he has to vote for the Republicans. And I'm a Republican too, but I'm being kind of pressured to vote for Obama because it's supposed to be my responsibility to do that.

CONAN: Sounds like you might want to leave the country when - come Thanksgiving.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TYRON: Basically, basically. And it's caused some heated arguments in our family, and…

CONAN: Tyron's family, Michael Fauntroy, hardly the only one that's split?

Prof. FAUNTROY: You know what? I hope my father is not listening to this. But he and I, I had to leave the basement last week because he and I had this back and forth about Obama. And he takes a position and a lot of people do that if we don't do it now, it's not going to happen. Notwithstanding the fact that there is a growing, deep pipeline of very talented African-Americans, I'm thinking about somebody like Deval Patrick, who to my mind in a few years…

CONAN: Governor of Massachusetts?

Prof. FAUNTROY: Governor of Massachusetts…

CONAN: Yeah.

Prof. FAUNTROY: …will certainly be qualified to do that job. And so the pressure is splitting families. You know, Ray talked about the Rangold family, but some people may not know that Jesse Jackson's wife cut an ad for Hillary Clinton in South Carolina the same time Jesse was supporting Obama. And so, you know, it's just - it's splitting families on generational lines, on gender lines, and I actually think it's good for the country because we need to have this. It's sort of like going from being an adolescent to an adult. It's awkward at times, it's tense at times, but ultimately, you'll be better off at the - in the end.

TYRON: (Unintelligible)

CONAN: Michel?

MARTIN: Actually, I was going to say I had, I had - Mrs. Jackson - Reverend Jackson's wife, Jacqueline Jackson on my show and asked her about that. And I said, well, you know, what happened? A lot of us want to know what happened at the breakfast table. She said, I was for Hillary first.

CONAN: Tyron, I heard you're trying to get in there, I'm sorry.

TYRON: I was also going to say, I also get criticized for not getting involved. What I do is just the day that you're supposed to vote, I go in the booth, and I just punch Republican all the way down. You know, I don't care who's on there, you know, let them fight it out until the day I have to vote, and then I just go in, and I vote Republican. And I get criticized because I'm supposed to be involved now in helping Obama, you know, get onto the docket.

CONAN: Okay. Michael - Tyron, thank you very much for the call. And good luck at the next family gathering.

TYRON: Thank you. Great show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another question from here in the audience, to my left.

FEMALE: Hi, good afternoon. My name is Sibera Lex(ph).

CONAN: Hi.

Ms. SIBERA LEX: And my question is this - and this is - are black American youth motivated enough to really have an effect on the political process? I'm actually from - I'm from Toronto, Canada. I came to Morgan, and I really wonder that because just based on experiences and the importance of travel and being in different places, you understand and you realize that there are certain things in life that other people have. Like I say, for me that I have health care, and for being here to understand how important that is to have free health care, and I have to think twice if you just don't feel that - that well. And to understand that you're worth more, and you deserve more. And I think it's so important to understand that, I wonder if the black youth understand that to be so much more involved in the political process in terms of that fact. Because once you understand that you deserve more, then you'll go to make sure that more happens for you. So are black Americans youth, you know, do they realize the political process and are they motivated enough to really make change?

You know, Tavis Smiley was here, I think, about two years ago. And he talked about us being the generation who never had to fight for anything, civil rights. Hey, you can sit anywhere you want in the bus. It doesn't matter. So I wonder, are we motivated enough, are black Americans motivated enough to really have an effect and really push for change in regards - and be involved in the political process whether it be the presidential or local, whatever?

CONAN: Michel Martin, you in South Carolina, what'd you see?

MARTIN: Actually, I think that young people in general are highly motivated by this campaign. I mean, we've seen record turnout on the Democratic side in all four contests that have been held so far in Iowa and New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Younger people, white and black, seem to be very motivated. They tend to be - younger people - younger voters tend to be breaking for Obama. And I also think that it's important to know. I think young African Americans have shown a remarkable increase in their level of political participation over the last decade or so. Keli probably knows more about this than I do.

CONAN: Keli?

Ms. GOFF: Well, I was going to actually say - it's interesting because in August of this year, Barack Obama was making a case to an undecided Democratic voter, and this is - who was very skeptical of the idea that he could actually win the general election. And his response to that voter was, I guarantee that I can increase - that my candidacy can increase the participation of young voters by at least 30 percent, and of African-American voters by potentially 30 percent, and put a number - which will put a number of states in play that haven't been in the long time.

People were so skeptical of that pronouncement, at the time, there's all these writing about it. And then sure enough, you saw what happened in Iowa, and we started seeing the pattern.

So - to answer your question, they - appear to be very motivated, and his candidacy certainly has a lot to do with that. You know, in South Carolina, there is a big rally they had the night before. And there you had on the stage, people like Usher, Kerry Washington - and they were stunned by the turnout of the crowd, and who the makeup of the crowd, all these young African Americans. And just really quickly, I want to slip in a plug because I know there's a lot of celebrities that made fun of for, you know, having, you know, for their politics and for their involvement in politics. But I think that the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and Russell Simmons' involvement and Ben Chavis's has actually been more influential than I think people initially realized it would be, because what Russell did is he really took it to another level. He didn't just cut a commercial. He didn't just host a fundraiser. He didn't just show up on TV and spout his mouth off. He really took it upon himself to actually have forms and go around educating voters and African men what they think and informing them. It actually helps cultivate a voter, not just saying vote for this guy because I say so.

CONAN: let me reintroduce our guests. You just heard from Keli Goff, author of "Party Crashing: How the Hip-Hop Generation Declared Political Independence." Also with us, Michel Martin, the host of NPR's TELL ME MORE. Michael Fauntroy, assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University. Raymond Winbush, director of the Institute for Urban Affairs here at Morgan State University. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get Rick(ph) on the air. Rick is calling us from Baltimore.

RICK (Caller): Good afternoon to all.

CONAN: Good afternoon.

RICK: I'm glad to be here. But I've been listening to your program; it's very inspirational. And I would like to be following Barack on the news. I'm a Barack Obama supporter. I just want everybody to take a deep breath with about - with what I'm about to say. I think that people should take a big look at Barack. And I mean, really look at his nucleus(ph). What toll is this putting on his family, his mom, his dad, and really support that, because this brother's really putting himself out on the frontline. See, I grew up joining the civil rights, I'm 51 years old. And most of the guests in - at Morgan State are probably young. They really won't remember 1968.

CONAN: I'm afraid a couple of us do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. FAUNTROY: More than a couple of us.

RICKY: I'm really going somewhere with this - when Martin Luther King was assassinated, I was 11 years old when that happened. It was very emotional time in the cities, and the nation was in a uproar, especially black America. Now, with that said, Barack is putting himself out there. Take a good look and think the possibility of him getting assassinated. Now, I'm quite sure that his family, Michelle, and everybody in the Obama family, took a good look and thought before they decided to run for this campaign. They made that decision. They dig down deepest in their families, and they decided, we're going to do this for who, us, to show, like, the young - the woman that was talking about what a black man was, she really made me call, the older lady in your audience. I love you out there, ma.

But I want you to realize that I feel what you said. There are success stories in our community, and Barack needs everyone's support, regardless of what it is. So if you want go on race, go on race. But he needs all the support he can because guess what, he's up against one hell of a force. And what I'm saying to you, if you never lived through an assassination or if you've never witnessed one and how that feels. On the other side of things, yes, we are happy that he's running, but let's think about the dark side of this whole thing that possibly can erupt, because the world is made of evil people, and - and India took a big shot when the Indian leader got assassinated. You don't know what that feels like to a country, to a people, to a nation. Barack needs all of our support…

CONAN: Okay.

RICKY: No matter what. So I give Barack my support. And everyone in this audience should really give him support. If they don't, if they don't remember when Martin Luther King was assassinated, you really don't want to live that again.

CONAN: Now, Raymond Winbush, I know you do remember when Martin Luther King was assassinated. I just want to - we just have a minute or so left. And I wanted you to comment on what Rick had to say.

Prof. WINBUSH: Well, I think Rick reflects the fears that a lot of black folk have around this country. And it's what - it's like the unspoken fear that this could happen. And you know - and if it does happen, you know, you know, God save us, but I think it's something that we discuss. It is a real fear, and it's something that, you know, talks about race in America, it goes to the heart of the violence in this country towards black folk who have aspirations.

CONAN: Michel Martin?

MARTIN: I do understand what the caller was saying. I also understand what Professor Winbush is saying. But I also think it's important to point out that there are African-Americans serving at every level of the security apparatus of this country. They are dedicated citizens who are dedicating their lives to protecting this man, and all the other candidates. And I just think it's important for people to keep that in mind.

CONAN: And Michael Fauntroy, if you keep it short.

Prof. FAUNTROY: Yeah. I would just also say, we are a different country now than we were 40 years ago. And I think that - I am not as concerned about that as others are.

CONAN: It might depend on the circumstances of the incident, should it, God forbid, happen. Keli Goff, you want the last word in 15 seconds?

Mr. GOFF: The very last words I'd say is that's not the only fear, the issue of assassination, you know? I think there's a fear of failure. There's a fear of what if he gets the nomination, doesn't get to the Promised Land, will that set us back 40 years? But you can't live in fear for the rest of your life.

CONAN: That was Keli Goff, also with us Michael Fauntroy, Raymond Winbush and Michel Martin. Thank you all very much, and thanks for audience here at Morgan State.

Tomorrow, it's SCIENCE FRIDAY, and Ira Flatow will be here, Lynn Neary host on Monday and Tuesday, we'll see you Wednesday.

I'm Neal Conan, NPR News, at Morgan State University in Baltimore.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.