Will Barack Obama Break Through?

Yes, it’s historic that Barack Obama will be the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. But in truth. only his winning in November will make a lasting mark in American history. Without that, Obama will be a footnote. rather than an actual turning point.

We all know that many of our fellow citizens who are African Americans have ancestors who came here long before the waves of white Europeans who arrived on these shores in the mid and late nineteenth century. Unfortunately, most of those early arriving African Americans came here against their will, as slaves. African Americans spent 300 years in America as part of a vast underclass. The Civil War ended slavery, but it was the civil rights era that broke down the system that suppressed the rights of African Americans, and that of many people of color.

I grew up in a neighborhood in New York City, a huge project of over 100 apartment buildings. It was owned by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, and was totally segregated. You saw Irish, Polish, German, Italian families, but never a black family. I shake my head now when I remember that tragic time.

As a young boy, I asked my father why the parents of my black school chum, Donald, never got approved to move into Parkchester, but rather stayed in a rundown tenement building just outside of our all-white enclave. They had made several applications but for one reason or another they never got in.

“They can’t get in because they’re colored,” my father explained. He said it with no particular sense of outrage. It was just the way the world was at that time. The sun rose in the east, set in the west, and no people of color—Asian, Indian, Hispanic, African, etcetera, etcetera—were given the keys to an apartment in Parkchester.

It’s interesting that, what the member of one generation thinks is plain and simple, is bizarre and confounding to a member of the next generation. So it was for me about segregation. There is a ridiculous myth that racism was limited to the South. That just wasn’t true. The race riots of the sixties in places like Detroit, New York, Cleveland and other northern cities weren’t simply conjured up out of nothing. They were a reaction to decades of injustice and inequality.

I’m watching to see what happens now. A man of color has moved to the threshold of history. Is America ready to open the door? If it does racism will not disappear overnight but it will be dealt a crippling blow.

Soon I want to go and read a storybook to a classroom of first graders. I want to look at boys and girls who have black faces, brown faces, red faces, white faces, and yellow faces, and then I want to stop for a moment and think, “One day anyone of these children might become the president of the United States.” When that day comes, the words of Dr. King will boom out of my memory and I’ll say along with him, “Thank God Almighty We’re Free At Last.”

Martin Brown
SMW Money Editor