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Obama says it’s time to move beyond ‘One Black’ Syndrome
By: Hazel Trice Edney
Originally posted 9/15/2004

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – U. S. Senate Candidate Barack Obama, singled out for his exceptional speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, says Blacks have moved past the need for a single national leader.

“We’re beyond the point where we just have one messiah,” Obama says in an NNPA interview during the Congressional Black Caucus’ Annual Legislative Conference. “What we need is collective leadership helping to move the ball forward. I think everybody’s got a contribution to make.”

The 42-year-old Illinois state senator, former civil rights lawyer and Harvard law school graduate, became a household word after his rousing primetime speech. Some pundits immediately hailed Obama as the “Tiger Woods” of politics and predicted that he will eclipse Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton in popularity.

“There are people like myself, who hopefully can work within an institution like the United States Senate and do important work,” he says, rejecting the notion that African-Americans must choose between he, Jackson or Sharpton. “There are going to be other people like Rev. Sharpton, who will be using a different platform. And, I don’t think those things are contradictory. Rev. Jackson is a constituent and family friend and he was an important early supporter of my campaign. I continue to draw from the wisdom and knowledge of those who paid enormous sacrifices to help people like myself have the opportunities that I do.”

Obama’s quick rise outside his home state has caused political observers to scrutinize him closely.

“The rap in Chicago was that he was not Black enough. And so, that’s still going to be a lingering question,” says University of Maryland Political Scientist Ronald Walters. “But his legislative record tells you that he has been good on progressive legislation. He seems to be a liberal. He seems to have really taken some time to deal with urban issues.”

Walters did not always hold this opinion. He admits he was among the first to question Obama’s racial allegiance because of the belief that he had been a belief that Obama had been a member of the Democratic Leadership Committee, a centrist group that works to move the party to the right.

“It was said that he was sort of a paper member of it, but that was to give himself some entrée,” Walters says. “My interpretation was that he was covering all bases with the Democratic Party.”

Obama declares that no such relationship with the DLC ever existed.

“The Black Commentator, the Web site, saw my name as one of the 100 up-and-coming that the DLC had listed and assumed that somehow that made me a DLC member. They were mistaken,” he says.

Obama explains, “I try not to label myself as any particular kind of legislator. I like to have flexibility to make judgment calls about what I think is best for my voters.”

Moving through thick crowds at the Democratic convention and at last week’s CBC Weekend, Obama always seemed to stand out, attracting crowds everywhere he went. If elected to the Senate, he says he will not blend in there either, but will speak up on issues that affect African-Americans and others.

“Some issues cut across all racial lines, like jobs, education, and health care,” he says. “But they especially benefit African-Americans, who are disproportionately unemployed, disproportionately lack health care coverage, disproportionately go to sub-standard schools. There are also those specific issues surrounding civil rights, voting rights, and health disparities in areas like AIDS, in which I look forward to being an advocate, not only because I’m African-American but also because it’s the right thing to do.”

Obama says he objects to President Bush packing the federal courts with Far Right extremeists.

“I hope John Kerry is the next president,” he says. “I have confidence that his judicial appointments will be sympathetic to civil rights and voting rights and civil liberties. If President Bush got another four years, I think we’d have to be fearful.”

Obama is being challenged by Alan Keyes, a two time long-shot presidential candidate and former under secretary of state in the Reagan administration. Keyes, a resident of Maryland, announced his Illinois senatorial candidacy last month.

Obama, who holds a he lead in the polls, tactfully avoids discussing his

If elected, as expected, Obama will be the third African-American to serve in the U. S. Senate since Reconstruction. The others are Edward W. Brooke (1966-1978) and Carol Moseley Braun (1992-1998).

Observers see him as a potential new voice on the Hill. But they see him as serving dual roles.

The son of a White American mother and Kenyan father, some see Obama as helping bridge the racial gap.

“I’ve always identified as an African-American. People look at me and say, ‘There’s an African-American brother,’” he explains.

Yet he is not limited by that.

“I think I can speak to many cultures, but I don’t think that’s unique to me,” Obama says. “I think it’s just a matter of experience and exposure as opposed to where your bloodline is. That’s why I’ve never been someone who believes there should only be one African-American leader. Everybody’s got a voice that they contribute.”


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