Sunday, February 18, 2007

Black man can't win? Think again, Obama says in S.C. stop

Black man can't win? Think again, Obama says in S.C. stop
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
February 18, 2007

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- When Sen. Barack Obama arrived here Friday night for a rally at the Metropolitan Convention Center -- his first trip to South Carolina as a presidential candidate -- things were in an uproar. The day before, he'd been rebuffed by state Sen. Darrell Jackson, one of the most prominent and politically influential black men in the state, in a deal that, as the late Lu Palmer used to say, "is enough to make a Negro turn black."

Jackson, also the pastor of a 10,000-member congregation, is the head of Sunrise Enterprises. The political consulting firm picked up a $10,000-a-month consulting contract with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, apparently reneging on an earlier commitment to the Obama camp.

At the same time, another state senator, Robert Ford, was frantically backpedaling from earlier comments in which he defended his support of Clinton by arguing that Obama would drag the Democratic ticket down.

Although Obama didn't address the Jackson controversy during his speech, he took clear aim at Ford's a-black-man-can't-win attitude -- linking those remarks to historical markers in the civil rights movement.

"Someone said if Obama was president that we would lose up and down the ticket -- governor's race, state senator races, local races -- can't have a black man at the top of the ticket," he told a frenzied crowd of about 2,800 people.

"I know this . . . that when folks were saying we are going to march for our freedoms, somebody said you can't do that.

"When somebody said let's sit at the lunch counter, [somebody said] we can't do that. ... When somebody says a woman belongs in the kitchen -- and not in the work force, they said we can't do that.

"I don't believe in this can't do, won't do, won't even try style of leadership. Don't believe in that," he told a screaming crowd. "Yes, we can."

Politically, it was a strange welcome in a city that seven years ago was embroiled in a battle with the NAACP because the Confederate flag -- a symbol seen as offensive by many African Americans -- still flew from the state Capitol.

'It's time for a change'
But this latest controversy didn't dampen the spirits of a crowd that was nearly split among whites, blacks and others.

Edna R. Clifton, a senior African American who was born and raised in South Carolina, said Obama's biggest challenge in South Carolina -- where black mega-churches are plentiful and pastors are powerful -- will be educating black voters.

"It's the mentality of the people who are following these preachers," she said as she stood in an adoring throng waiting for Obama to take the stage.

"It's all about the money. Really, I think some of these pastors have been bought off."

Clifton said she likes Obama.

"I like what he is saying. He is a family man, and it's time for change," she said.

About half of the state's voters are African American, and with Obama's crossover appeal, he stands a realistic chance of winning in this early primary state.

Although African Americans turned out en masse to hear Obama speak, there were a sizable number of Caucasian, Asian and Indian listeners as well.

"It was a great speech. He's a great speaker," said Ryan Johnson, a Caucasian who was with his wife, Christie, and their toddler, who had fallen asleep on his shoulder.

"I like his theme of hope," Johnson said. "That is something that we are going to need. I only wish my daughter had stayed awake because she's been running around saying 'Obama' all day."

Obama attended a private breakfast meeting with several local pastors Saturday morning before speaking at Claflin University in Orangeburg -- the country's oldest historically black college.

Johnnie Mitchell, an environmentalist who lives in Orangeburg, told me Friday before even hearing Obama speak that he wasn't buying the poll that showed African Americans favor Clinton over Obama 2-1.

"I'm not even going to think negative. I'm hoping not getting the nomination is not even an option."


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