Bob Oakes in for Tom Ashbrook
African-Americans and the GOP. It’s still a struggle. We’ll ask why.
President Obama was buoyed into office with the help of 95 percent of black voters. For the GOP, attracting black voters has been a struggle. And the Republican candidates can’t seem to get on message. Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have all had to make the case that their words, their actions, were not racist.
And their message of conservative values and small government doesn’t seem to be gaining any traction among African Americans.
This hour, On Point: why the GOP isn’t winning over African Americans.
Charlton McIlwain, professor of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. He is co-author of Race Appeal: How Candidates Invoke Race in U.S. Political Campaigns.
Ron Christie, GOP strategist and president of Christie Strategies. He’s the author of Acting White: The Curious History of a Racial Slur.
C Segment – Isabel Wilkerson “The First Black American to…”
Isabel Wilkerson, professor of Journalism at Boston University’s College of Communication and author of “The Warmth of Other Suns.”
From The Reading List
The New York Times “On Sunday, Rick ”The Rooster” Santorum, campaigning in Iowa, said what sounded like ”I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.” At first, he offered a nondenial that suggested that the comment might have been out of context. Now he’s saying that he didn’t say ”black people” at all but that he ”started to say a word” and then ”sort of mumbled it and changed my thought.””
The Nation “In the British original of The Office the main protagonist, David Brent (US reincarnation: Michael Scott), wistfully recalls a tender moment during his favorite war film, The Dam Busters, involving the hero pilot, Wing Commander Guy Gibson. “Before he goes into battle, he’s playin’ with his dog,” says Brent.”
Christian Science Monitor “After Herman Cain, the GOP has a credibility crisis with black voters; Even before Herman Cain suspended his presidential campaign, Republicans faced a crisis withblack voters. The GOP has never been able to garner more than 12 percent of the black vote – not with black appointees; not with black candidates. The party needs to become more progressive.”
Essay: The First Black American To…
By: Isabel Wilkerson
A single thread appears and reappears in the final words written by the families of more than 300 people who died this past year. In each of these obituaries, was a phrase that read something like this: “the first black American to…” or “the first African-American X.”
Eugene King was the first African-American milk delivery man in Gary, Indiana area. Eddie Koger was the first black bus driver in the state of South Carolina. Camillus Wilson was the first African American meter reader for the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company. Nancy Hodge-Snyder was said to have “had the distinction of being the first black registered nurse in Kalamazoo, Michigan.”
I scan the list of names and I can’t stop reading. How mundane the positions are. How modest the dreams have been. But added together, they somehow bear witness to how far the country has come and how it got to where it is. They speak to how many individual decisions had to be made, how many chances taken, the anxiety and second-guessing at the precise instant that each of these people got hired to whatever humble or lofty position they sought.
Walter Tharp Jr. was the first black window dresser at Wolf & Dessauer’s Department Store in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Walter Lee was the first black postal clerk in Winter Park, Florida. Bernice Ellis Riley was the first black teller at First Federal Bank in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Thomas Reid Sr. was the first African-American mold maker at Wheaton Glass in Millville, New Jersey.
When they were hired, most appeared to have known when they were making history. The family of Alvin Taylor of Palmetto, Florida described him simply as “the first African-American in every appointment he attained.” A woman named Dorothy Allen had never known of a black probation officer in her county, but in 1974, she applied anyway because she had a sociology degree, heard of an opening and needed the job. “Everybody knew who had which jobs,” her husband Dempsey, told me. “There was some judge’s nephew that wanted that job. We were shut out time and time again. But she went in there and she got it.” They celebrated in Detroit that weekend, and decades later he wrote the line I read in her obituary, “first black probation officer in Saginaw, County, Michigan.”
There are influential people on the list. James Bowman was the first black resident at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago and the father of White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett. Annette Samuels was the first black White House spokeswoman. Matthew Perry was the first black United States District Court Judge in South Carolina.
But it’s the lesser known positions combine that make history with a little “h.” The more ordinary the “first” the more petty the years of exclusion seem to be in a world filled with black tellers and postal clerks. Each position was both a happy triumph and a sad reminder of what it took to get there.
Jimmie Nolcox was the first black reserve sheriff deputy hired in Gibson County, Indiana. Donald Dickerson was the first African-American fire fighter in Statesboro, Georgia. Pressie Frentress was the first black mail carrier for the Grey Iron Plant in Saginaw, Michigan. Eva McElroy was the first African American voter precinct inspector in San Jose, California. Marjorie Grevious was the first African American female licensed funeral director and embalmer in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Sometime in the future, the phrase will be invoked in the obituary for the biggest first of all, the first African American elected to the Oval Office. It’s a designation that surely, the first milk delivery man and the first electrician and the first African American business agent for Union Local 663 had more than a little something to do with.