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The Kings, Queens, and Martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is my hero. His leadership, intellect, courage, and ambassadorship to white America and the world at large make him deserving of all the recognitions and honors that he’s received.

Yet, I am filled with ambivalence every time we come to another MLK Jr Day. Yes, Dr. King was a great man. But he was not an army of one.

The Civil Rights Movement had numerous heroes and martyrs. All of them deserve recognition. Rather than a day to celebrate the memory of King, I would have preferred a Nation Civil Rights Movement Day to celebrate all of those who were a part of the Movement.

For example, my other “favorite” super-hero from the Movement is Mississippi’s Fannie Lou Hamer. She started

working in the fields when she was six, and was only educated through the sixth grade. She married in 1942, and adopted two children. She went to work on the plantation where her husband drove a tractor, first as a field worker and then as the plantation’s timekeeper. She also attended meetings of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, where speakers addressed self-help, civil rights, and voting rights.

In 1962, Fannie Lou Hamer volunteered to work with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) registering black voters in the South. She and the rest of her family lost their jobs for her involvement, and SNCC hired her as a field secretary. She was able to register to vote for the first time in her life in 1963, and then taught others what they’d need to know to pass the then-required literacy test. In her organizing work, she often led the activists in singing Christian hymns about freedom: “This Little Light of Mine” and others.

She helped organize the 1964 “Freedom Summer” in Mississippi, a campaign sponsored by SNCC, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the NAACP.

In 1963, after being charged with disorderly conduct for refusing to go along with a restaurant’s “whites only” policy, Hamer was beaten so badly in jail, and refused medical treatment, that she was permanently disabled.

Hamer is most famous for her work as Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, sometimes called the “Freedom Democrats,” in 1964. The Freedom Democrats challenged the seating of Mississippi’s all-white and anti-civil rights delegation to the Democratic National Convention of that year as not representative of all Mississippians. The Freedom Democrats brought national attention to the plight of black people in the state, and led to reforms in the way persons are seated at the Democratic Convention.

In 1972 the Mississippi House of Representatives passed a resolution honoring her national and state activism, by a vote of 116 to 0. This was an extraordinary recognition, given the state’s resistance to integration. Hamer died in Mississippi in 1977.


Fannie Lou Hamer, Freedom Democrat (Library of Congress photo)

To me, no understanding of the Movement can be complete without knowing her story. But as I talk to people about Civil Rights history, especially young people, I am saddened that they have little or no idea of who she was or what she accomplished.

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Election Wrap-up: Black Republicans Go to Congress

The 2010 election cycle is notable for the Republican Party tidal wave that saw the Democrat Party lose control of the House of Representatives, and have diminished majority in the Senate. The Wave brought with it some diversity in the GOP’s Congressional delegation: there are now two African American Republicans in the House of Representatives.

The last time there were two African Americans Republicans in Congress was in 1995-96, when J. C. Watts represented the 4th District of Oklahoma and Gary Franks represented the 5th district of Connecticut.

This year’s breakthrough occurred thanks to the election of black Republicans in Florida and South Carolina. Allen West won his race for congress in southern Florida, while Tim Scott won his race in the Charleston and northern coastal area of South Carolina.

Allen West won in Florida’s 22nd District, which includes parts of Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, and other portions of Broward County and Palm Beach County. These are north of Dade County, which contains the city of Miami.

West’s district is 75% white, 15% Hispanic, and just 5% black. He beat out two-term Democratic incumbent Ron Klein by a margin of 54.3% for himself to 45.7% for Klein. The two had faced each other in the 2008 election; in that election, Klein beat West by 55% to 45%.


Allen West, Congressman-elect, 22nd District-Florida

West has something of a reputation for being controversial and combative. The 2010 Almanac of American Politics spoke of West in its discussion of the 2008 election:

…former Army Lieutenant Col. Allen West… retired after a 2003 incident in which he fired a gun near the head of an Iraqi detainee in an effort to make him reveal information about plans to attack U.S. troops. West’s explanation was that he had “sacrificed” his military career “for the lives of my men.”

Also during the 2008 campaign, West charged that a request for an interview from Al-Jezeera was actually part of a kidnapping plot.

The website TalkingPointsMemo.com said this about West:

Without a doubt, Allen West is going to become a new star all around — adored on the right, and a bogeyman of the left. First of all, West built his conservative political career on a particular event from his own military service — when he tortured an Iraqi policeman, and was proud of it. Since then, his attitudes on foreign policy haven’t changed much: “A nation goes to war against an ideology. We are against something that is a totalitarian, theocratic, political ideology, and it is called Islam.” The incident ended his time in uniform, and launched him on a track to Republican politics.

Also during this past campaign, West faced questions over his campaign’s ties to a criminal biker gang, The Outlaws. And at one of his events, a group of leather-clad men ejected a Democratic video tracker, as West got the crowd cheering. (It is unclear whether these same security men were Outlaws. In addition, West has pointed out that he could not possibly be an Outlaw himself — they do not accept African-Americans as members.)

It remains to be seen if West will this interesting once he gets on to the mundane tasks of representing his district in Congress, although being a black Republican will surely get West some media attention no matter what he does.

DID YOU KNOW: South Florida now has three African American representative in the Congress: West; Alcee Hastings, who represents Florida’s 23rd District; and newly-elected Fredrica Wilson, of Florida’s 17th District. The 17th District seek was previously held by Kendrick Meek. Meek ran for the U.S. Senate this year, and lost in a three-way race (that included outgoing Florida governor Charlie Christ) to Marco Rubio.
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Tim Scott, Congressman-elect, 1st District-South Carolina

The other successful Republican African American candidate for U.S. Congress is Tim Scott. Scott will be representing the 1st District of South Carolina. This includes much of the Charleston metro area, although the heavily black parts are in the nearby 6th District. The 6th District is represented by James Clyburn, who is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Clyburn is the current House Majority (Democratic Party) Whip, which is one of the leadership positions among House Democrats; however, with Republicans taking over the House, his role may change. We'll see.
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Republican Scare Tactics, Then and Now

Fear is one of more common themes in political advertisements. Consider this political ad from 1949, which was seen in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area:

I think this speaks for itself. It almost makes the Willie Horton ads from the 1988 presidential campaign seem tame.

Note the little girl’s doll:

So… who’s the Republican bogeyman for 2010? This poster was recently (October 2010) seen in Shreveport, Louisiana:

Obama as the bogeyman, 2010.

Boo.

(Hat tip to Dailykingfish.com for the image.)
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NOTE: This picture at the top is from the excellent book, One Shot Harris: The Photographs of Charles “Teenie” Harris. Harris was a photographer who worked for the Pittsburgh Courier, which was one of the nation’s top black newspapers.

The book contains photographs taken by Harris from the 1940s through the 1960s. Black Issues Book Review said this about Harris and the book:

One Shot Harris is pure soul. Though Harris photographed people living in poverty, most of his photos break away from the all-too-familiar images that oftentimes represent blacks during hard times. Instead, Harris focused on local folk–proud at work and at home–along with numerous celebrities to convey cultural pride. He took particular pleasure in highlighting The Hill District, the Pittsburgh neighborhood where many African Americans flocked seeking employment and entertainment.

“What I’d like for readers to take away from this book,” says writer Stanley Crouch, “is that Harris shows that these black communities, regardless of all stereotypes, were as civilized as any community in the entire western world.”

The book contains an essay by noted writer Stanley Crouch, and a biography of Harris by African American photography scholar Deborah Willis. Highly recommended.

Artur Davis Loses Big in Primary Election for Alabama Governor

Artur Davis, who was running to become Alabama’s first black governor, lost big in the Alabama Democratic primary yesterday.


Artur Davis

Artur Davis, who is currently serving out his term as a member of Congress for Alabama’s Seventh District, lost big to Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks. Sparks got 62% of the Democratic primary vote for governor, versus 38%, of the vote for Davis.

Davis’ support from black voters was lower than expected, although some observers were not surprised. For one, Davis failed to court the support of Alabama’s main black political organizations, and got endorsements from none of them. Those groups gave their support to Sparks.

Davis also drew the ire of some progressives for his centrist/conservative stands on many issues. For example, Davis voted against the Health Care Reform bill, a move that was seen as a way to make him more attractive to the state’s white and conservative voters in a general election. Rev. Jesse Jackson was quoted as saying, “You can’t vote against health care and call yourself a black man.” Davis was the only member of the Congressional Black Caucus to vote against the bill.

The political website FiveThirtyEight.com has a good discussion of the election results, starting with this:

The dream of a biracial progressive coalition supporting a southern African-American politician took another hit last night as Rep. Artur Davis was crushed by underdog primary opponent Ron Sparks in the Alabama Democratic gubernatorial primary. And so, for some who don’t look too closely at the numbers, Davis joins the list along with Georgia’s Andrew Young, North Carolina’s Harvey Gantt and Tennessee’s Harold Ford, of southern black candidates who couldn’t get enough white votes to win.

Without exit polling, it’s impossible to accurately break down racial patterns in yesterday’s vote. But even a cursory look at the numbers shows that while Sparks did indeed wax Davis among white Democrats, he did exceptionally well among black Democrats as well. Moreover, Davis wasn’t hurt by some dropoff in black turnout attributable to his refusal to pursue African-American endorsements or focus on that community and its issue priorities; indeed, in most parts of the state, black turnout seems to have held up relatively well as compared to the last statewide gubernatorial primary in 2006 (overall, Democratic turnout was down 31% from 2006).

The article goes on to say that Sparks may have won almost one-half of the black vote in the primary.

It still remains to be seen who will win Congressional seat that Davis is vacating. The two top vote getters in the Democratic primary, Terri Sewell (who got 37% of the primary vote), and Shelia Smoot (29%), will face-off in a runoff election that is scheduled for July 13. Although Republicans will be running for the seat in the November election, it is a foregone conclusion that the Democratic candidate will be the winner after the votes are counted.

US Navy’s Guide to Commanding Negroes (1945)

In recognition of the challenges in dealing with Negroes, the US Navy developed a pamphlet titled Guide To Command of Negro Naval Personnel (NAVPERS – 15092) in 1945.

The Guide notes the following:

The mission of the Naval Establishment is the protection of our country, its possessions and its interests. It includes neither social reform nor support of the personal social preferences of its personnel. In the accomplishment of this mission it is mandatory that the training and ability of all Naval personnel be utilized to the fullest.

It must be recognized that problems of race relations do exist and that they must be taken into account in plans for the prosecution of the war. In the Naval Establishment they should be viewed however solely as matters of efficient personnel utilization.

In general, the same methods of discipline, training and leadership that have long proven successful in the Naval Establishment will be found to apply to the Negro enlisted man. However, the effective administration and use of Negro personnel does call for special knowledge and techniques in some instances.

This is the result of the fact that Negroes as a group have had a history different from that of the majority of Naval personnel. Their educational opportunities have been restricted; the percentage of skilled workers is smaller; and participation in the life of the nation has been limited.

It is the purpose of this pamphlet to point out group differences in background and experience of significance to the officer with Negroes in his command, and to suggest approaches which may be of aid to him in the performance of his duties. The success or failure of each Commanding Officer in the administration of Negroes under him will be determined largely by the spirit in which he approaches the problem and the degree of attention given to it.

The Guide addresses potential problem areas such as “Symbols That Irritate,” “Even Compliments may be Misunderstood,” “Racial Separation,” “Transportation,” “Public Relations,” “The Negro Press,” “Rumors” and “Control of Venereal Disease.”

The title is outdated, and so is much of the Guide’s content. However, I found this to be a fascinating read for its frank and comprehensive treatment of the subject of dealing with African Americans in the military, and the window it provides into the mindset that whites in the military had toward blacks in the 1940s. It’s well worth your time to take a look.

NC Civil Rights Museum Opens at Site of the First 1960s Lunch Counter Sit-ins

This is great news!


The International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina

In Greensboro, NC, the site of the first 1960s lunch counter sit-ins has been turned into a civil rights museum. This is an excerpt from a story by the AP:

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The four college freshmen walked quietly into a Greensboro dime store on a breezy Monday afternoon, bought a few items, then sat down at the “whites only” lunch counter – and sparked a wave of civil rights protest that changed America. Violating a social custom as rigid as law, Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr. and David Richmond sat near an older white woman on the silver-backed stools at the F.W. Woolworth. The black students had no need to talk; theirs was no spontaneous act. Their actions on Feb. 1, 1960, were meticulously planned, down to buying a few school supplies and toiletries and keeping their receipts as proof that the lunch counter was the only part of the store where racial segregation still ruled.

They weren’t afraid, even though they had no way of knowing how the sit-ins would end. What they did know was this: They were tired, they were angry and they were ready to change the world.

The number of protesters mushroomed daily, reaching at least 1,000 by the fifth day. Within two months, sit-ins were occurring in 54 cities in nine states. Within six months, the Greensboro Woolworth lunch counter was desegregated.

The sit-in led to the formation in Raleigh of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which became the cutting edge of the student direct-action civil rights movement. The demonstrations between 1960 and 1965 helped pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

On Monday, February 1, 2010, the 50th anniversary of that transformative day, the International Civil Rights Center and Museum will open on the site of the Greensboro Woolworth store. The dining room is still there, with two counters forming an L-shape. One counter is a replica because the fixture was divided into parts and sent to three museums, including the Smithsonian. But the original stools and counter remain where the four sat and demanded service.

A video about the sit-ins from the History Channel is here:

The Museum’s web site – www.sitinmovement.org – has a very interesting homepage, which is worth a few seconds to browse.

A slideshow of photos from the museum has been produced by the New York Times, along with this article.

It’s wonderful to the efforts of these brave people memorialized and saved for review and consideration by future generations.

A Little Saturday Zydeco

Zydeco is black Creole music that is native to Southwest Louisiana. It originated as a unique and distinct art form after the early 1900s.

Zydeco music is characterized by the use of an accordion as the lead instrument, and occasionally, the use of a metal washboard or “frottoir.” Over the years, zydeco has been influenced by blues and R’n’B music. It remains popular in southern Louisiana and east Texas, but people in other parts of the country, especially young people, might not even know what it is.

Early zydeco made heavy use of French lyrics, but as the use of the language has declined throughout southern Louisiana, new Zydeco music is almost exclusively in English.

Zydeco has developed its own hand-dancing form, and this is a nice video of couple strutting their stuff on the Louisiana Zydeco Live television show:

I also like this zydeco line-dance video:

The music on the above video is from top zydeco band Brian Jack & The Zydeco Gamblers.

What Color is Your President?

The Pew Research Center recently released a report on racial attitudes in America. The report is based on a telephone survey conducted in October and November 2009.

The survey included a question about people’s perception of President Barack Obama’s racial identity. Here are the results:


Source: Pew Research Center

Question: How does Obama perceive his own racial identitiy? That’s discussed here in the post Barack Obama, Black, Biracial, Whatever.

‘Radioactive Racism’ in Tennessee

I don’t have words to describe how disturbing this is:

A radioactive waste processing company in Memphis, Tenn. recently agreed to pay $650,000 to settle a race discrimination lawsuit charging it with exposing African-American workers to higher radiation levels than white workers.

The legal action was brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against RACE, which stands for Radiological Assistance, Consulting and Engineering. The company, which processes radioactive waste from hospitals, laboratories and nuclear power plants, was purchased in 2006 by the Swedish waste processor Studsvik, which points out that alleged incidents occurred prior to the sale.

“Some of the discrimination alleged in this case is unusually extreme because of the physical danger it created for African American employees,” said EEOC Acting Chair Stuart J. Ishimaru. “It is deeply disturbing that this kind of race-based discrimination could be inflicted upon innocent workers.”

The full story is here from the Institute for Southern Studies’ Facing South site.

Faithful Slaves Monument: Thanks, But No Thanks

This is a monument in York County, South Carolina, to memorialize the “Faithful Slaves” of the the Civil War.


Faithful Slaves Memorial, York County, South Carolina; from The Historical Marker Database

The monument reads in part:

Dedicated to the faithful slaves who loyal to a sacred trust toiled for the support of the army with matchless devotion and sterling fidelity guarded our defenceless homes, women and children during the struggle for the principles of our Confederate States of America.

Full details of the monument are here. The comments at the link say that the thirteen-foot marble monument “is a tribute to the faithfulness of the Southern negro to the women and children of the South during the war… (and) probably the only one of its kind in the South.”

The folks who built this monument may well have been heartfelt in their motivations. But looking at it from my own vantage point, I find the thing disturbing and perverse.

I am going to describe the memorial with a metaphor that some might find objectionable… don’t say I didn’t warn you. To me, this memorial is akin to a rapist thanking a rape victim for being quiet during the act, thereby not alerting others to what was happening.

In both cases, thanks are being given for an action that benefits the victimizer, but does nothing to help the victim.

I can see why these folks would feel gratitude toward the slaves that are honored by this monument. In 1860, there were over three and a half million slaves in the South. But by the end of the Civil War, some estimates say that over 500,000 slaves fled their masters to go to contraband camps, head North, or otherwise seek freedom. Many males slaves joined the Union army or served the army in support roles. Meanwhile, many of the slaves who didn’t flee aided and abetted the Union effort by serving as spies, guides, or providing other support.

So, any slave who stayed with and supported their masters and masters’ families was undoubtedly seen as a blessing.

The thing is, this memorial is all about what the slaves did for their masters. I think it’s fair to ask, what did the slaves receive in return? Did they receive their freedom? Did they receive land or property, or reimbursement at a fair wage for their labors? Did they receive any political rights? The answer to these questions appears to be no.

Ultimately, I find this memorial to be self-serving and hollow.

I’m sure that the monument’s builders believed they were doing a good thing. But thanking a slave for being a good slave… that doesn’t resonate with me at all. If I was a slave, my reaction would be “thanks massa… thanks for nothing.”

Now, here’s a memorial I’d like to see. It features a huge statue, with a group of white men on one side, and a group of slaves on the other. The white men include Jefferson Davis (President of the Confederacy), Alexander Stephens, (Vice-President of the Confederacy) or John C. Calhoun (a leading proponent of slavery and secession prior to the Civil War). Their mouths are open, their faces etched with a mournful apology. On the other side, the slaves have a blank but measuring stare, as if they are trying to make sense of words that they never expected to hear.

On the base of the monument, there are two words: “We’re Sorry.”

Are there any such monuments in the South, or anywhere in this country? There should be.

(Hat tip to cwmemory.com )

The Kings, Queens, and Martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is my hero. His leadership, intellect, courage, and ambassadorship to white America and the world at large make him deserving of all the recognitions and honors that he’s received.

Yet, I am filled with ambivalence every time we come to another MLK Jr Day. Yes, Dr. King was a great man. But he was not an army of one.

The Civil Rights Movement had numerous heroes and martyrs. All of them deserve recognition. Rather than a day to celebrate the memory of King, I would have preferred a Nation Civil Rights Movement Day to celebrate all of those who were a part of the Movement.

For example, my other “favorite” super-hero from the Movement is Mississippi’s Fannie Lou Hamer. She started

working in the fields when she was six, and was only educated through the sixth grade. She married in 1942, and adopted two children. She went to work on the plantation where her husband drove a tractor, first as a field worker and then as the plantation’s timekeeper. She also attended meetings of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, where speakers addressed self-help, civil rights, and voting rights.

In 1962, Fannie Lou Hamer volunteered to work with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) registering black voters in the South. She and the rest of her family lost their jobs for her involvement, and SNCC hired her as a field secretary. She was able to register to vote for the first time in her life in 1963, and then taught others what they’d need to know to pass the then-required literacy test. In her organizing work, she often led the activists in singing Christian hymns about freedom: “This Little Light of Mine” and others.

She helped organize the 1964 “Freedom Summer” in Mississippi, a campaign sponsored by SNCC, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the NAACP.

In 1963, after being charged with disorderly conduct for refusing to go along with a restaurant’s “whites only” policy, Hamer was beaten so badly in jail, and refused medical treatment, that she was permanently disabled.

Hamer is most famous for her work as Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, sometimes called the “Freedom Democrats,” in 1964. The Freedom Democrats challenged the seating of Mississippi’s all-white and anti-civil rights delegation to the Democratic National Convention of that year as not representative of all Mississippians. The Freedom Democrats brought national attention to the plight of black people in the state, and led to reforms in the way persons are seated at the Democratic Convention.

In 1972 the Mississippi House of Representatives passed a resolution honoring her national and state activism, by a vote of 116 to 0. This was an extraordinary recognition, given the state’s resistance to integration. Hamer died in Mississippi in 1977.


Fannie Lou Hamer, Freedom Democrat (Library of Congress photo)

To me, no understanding of the Movement can be complete without knowing her story. But as I talk to people about Civil Rights history, especially young people, I am saddened that they have little or no idea of who she was or what she accomplished.

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Political Miscellany 11/6/09: Run-off Elections in Atlanta and Houston

Atlanta Mayoral Race Results in Runoff Election

The much watched Atlanta mayoral race is not over yet. Mayoral candidates Mary Norwood and Kasim Reed will go head to head in a run-off election on December 1, after neither gained the 50% of the vote needed to win the election outright on November 3rd.

Norwood, an at-large member of the Atlanta city council, got 45% of the vote. Reed, who is a Georgia state senator, came in second place with 38% of the vote. Atlanta City Council President Lisa Borders was third with 14% of the vote in an eight person race.

Mary-Norwood
Atlanta City Councilwoman and Mayoral Candidate Mary Norwood

This election has become notable because of the racial dynamics involved. Norwood is white, and if she wins, she will be the first white mayor of Atlanta in 36 years. The city is roughly 56% African American, 36% white, and 5% Hispanic. Although race is the 800 pound gorilla in the room, Norwood is popular throughout many parts of the city, and is seen as having a good chance of winning the run-off.

Kasim-Reed
Georgia State Senator and Atlanta Mayoral Candidate Kasim Reed

In the November 3rd election, Norwood did very well in the white areas of Atlanta, and had some pockets of black support throughout the city as well. Reed did well in southwest Atlanta and in predominantly black areas of northwest and west Atlanta.

The big questions going into the runoff are, who will the supporters of 3rd place finisher Lisa Borders vote for? And, how many people will come out to vote in December? As reported by the Atlanta Journal Constitution,

In 2001, when Shirley Franklin first ran for mayor, 41 percent of registered voters cast ballots. Tuesday, only about 24 percent of registered voters showed up. In many black areas away from Reed’s stronghold in southwest Atlanta, voter turnout was extremely low. At the polling station of the Central United Methodist Church on Mitchell Street on the West Side, only 4.63 percent of registered voters cast a ballot. In many southwest Atlanta precincts, more than 30 percent of registered voters turned out.

Low turnout would probably be least favorable to Reed.

Houston Mayoral Race Run-off

The mayoral race in Houston, Texas, has also resulted in a run-off election, to be held on December 12.

The Houston mayoral race has been notable for the diversity of the candidate pool. The leading candidates going into election day on November 3rd were City Councilman Peter Brown, a white Democrat; Harris county Education Trustee Roy Morales, a Hispanic Republican; City Controller Annise Parker, a Democrat, who is openly gay; and former City Attorney Gene Locke, an African American Democrat.

Houston-mayor-Locks,-Parker-Morales-Brown
Several of the candidates in Houston’s November mayoral election: Gene Locke, Roy Morales, Annise Parker, and Peter Brown. Locke and Parker will be in the December run-off election.

Parker and Locke received 31% and 26% of the vote, respectively, and are headed to the runoff.

If Locke wins, he will be Houston’s second African American mayor. If Parker wins, she will be the city’s first openly gay mayor, and the first such mayor of as large a city as Houston.

Political Miscellany @ 11/4/2009: Is the Obama Coalition “Portable” to Other Democratic Races?

Right after Obama’s presidential election win last November, I made this comment:

Here are my own election winners and losers, plus some “too early to tell” entries…

Too Early to Tell:

Black Voters: They were huge this election. Blacks were 13% of the total vote, up from 10% in 2000 and 11% in 2004. That helped make the difference in close elections for several states.

The question is, can they be depended on in future elections? Or will their turnout drop without Obama at the top of election ballots?

I think a lot more work needs to be done to make black voters a dependable election force, in close elections or elections in the South. Because if they’re not a dependable political force, that lessens their power and influence in the long run.

It will be interesting to see how much of the black vote turns out for the Georgia Senate runoff election between Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss and his opponent, Democrat Jim Martin. Martin has no hope of winning if black voters stay home; we’ll see if they sit this one out.

In the aforementioned Georgia Senate race, Jim Martin did wind up losing, and low black turnout was a factor.

Yesterday, Republicans won the governor’s election in New Jersey and Virginia. In both cases, the young and black voters who were key to Obama’s election success were not decisive in their support for the Democratic candidate.

Liz Sidoti of the Associated Press made these comments:

In another troubling omen for Democrats, the surveys also showed that more of the Virginians who turned out on Tuesday said they supported Republican John McCain in 2008 than said they backed Obama. That suggests the Democrats had difficulty turning out their base, including the swarms of first-time minority and youth voters whom Obama attracted as part of his diverse coalition.

A loss in Virginia could suggest that the diverse coalition that Obama cobbled together last year in Virginia and elsewhere — blacks, Hispanics, young people, independents and Republican crossovers — was a one-election phenomenon that didn’t transfer to the Democratic Party when Obama wasn’t on the ballot.

I share Sidoti’s concern, although I disagree with her comment that the Obama election win was a one hit wonder in terms of pulling together what I call the “Obama coalition” of young, black, Hispanic and independent voters.

Witness, for example, 38-year old Democrat Anthony Foxx in the Charlotte, North Carolina mayoral election. Voters in the city ended more than two decades of Republican leadership in Charlotte Tuesday by electing Foxx, who is the city’s second African-American mayor and the youngest in memory. Foxx won a close race, getting roughly 51 percent of the vote over Republican John Lassiter in unofficial tallies.

Foxx benefitted from a strong black turnout. African Americans are 35% of Charlotte’s population. The Democrats need to find and promote more candidates like him, who appeal to diverse constituents.

The bottom line is, if the Democrats are going to win “the Obama way,” they need to embrace the kinds of voters that put Obama into office. Failure to do so is perilous. Consider these comments from the Washington Post, concerning the election campaign in Virginia governor’s race:

Senior (Obama) administration officials have expressed frustration with how Democrat R. Creigh Deeds has handled his campaign for governor, refusing early offers of strategic advice and failing to reach out to several key constituencies that helped Obama win Virginia in 2008, they say.

A senior administration official said (Democratic gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh) Deeds badly erred on several fronts, including not doing a better job of coordinating with the White House. “I understood in the beginning why there was some reluctance to run all around the state with Barack Obama,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly about the race. “You don’t do that in Virginia. But when you consider the African American turnout that they need, and then when you consider as well they’ve got a huge problem with surge voters, younger voters, we were just a natural for them.”

A second administration official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “Obama, (outgoing Democratic governor Tim) Kaine and others had drawn a road map to victory in Virginia. Deeds chose another path.”

And it goes without saying that black voters can’t afford to be apathetic or unengaged simply because certain kinds of candidates aren’t running. Not everyone who runs for political office is exciting or charismatic. And sometimes it is about voting for the lesser of two evils. Black folks need to be willing to come out to the polls even in those kinds of situations.