One hundred years ago Denver held its first Democratic National Convention, this past week marked another series of anniversaries and historic moments that overshadowed the frustrating traffic jams, complicated media credential process, possible assassination plot, arrests, the high-tech security front resembling RoboCop replicas, and various demonstrations.
At the culmination of a weeklong of dynamic speeches, spirits were high at the final gathering place of the 2008 DNC. INVESCO Field was filled to the brim with a diverse, flag-waving crowd bursting at the seams with energy, emotion, and excitement. A medley of classic R&B music from Diana Ross’ “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” to James Brown’s “Living in America,” and Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered…I’m Yours,” played and prompted thousands of people to lift up their voices to sing in unison. The came ra crews, usually wearing stoic expressions, danced with playful abandonment. The Staples Singers lyrics seemed to echo the sentiments of what everyone was feeling:
I know a place
Ain’t nobody cryin’
Ain’t nobody worried
Ain’t no smilin’ faces
Mmm, no no
Lyin’ to the races
Help me, come on, come on
Somebody, help me now
(I’ll take you there)
The cries were of joy, the worries replaced by hope, the smiles were big grins, and no more lying seemed to be the mantra, “Obama, take us there – to the White House!” In between the songs, laughter, text messaging, self-paparazzi, and personal reflections, Obama continued to take his supporters another mile higher. Surveys reported that 22% of the attendees were African Americans, the largest number in history and according to Television Week more than 38 million people watched history unfold on television.
The nation listened to personal stories from Michelle Obama, Senator Joe Biden, Caroline Kennedy, Congressman John Lewis, and countless others. These stories moved many who watched from home or who were in the middle of the action. Various community leaders were asked for their reaction to the 2008 DNC.
“I felt Michelle was talking to me as a working mom of twins in college, healthcare provider, and an advocate and leader in women’s health,” Juanita Watts M.D., regional coordinator for Woman’s Health of Kaiser Permanente Southern California Region. She was giving me my marching orders. We are going to line up to do whatever she says because I trust and believe she has researched it and is open for us to give her our input.” Watts who grew up in Compton adds, “Michelle is listening to the pulse of what is happening which makes her qualified to evaluate the beat of America. The Obamas have been inclusive of all of America. So much has changed and so much more to come.”
Eighty-four thousand people gathered at INVESCO Field to witness Barack Obama’s acceptance speech, which is the largest number of attendees at the DNC in the history of this nation. Forty-five years earlier, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech. Bringing together all of these elements, several African American community leaders were asked about their reactions to this event and what speaker(s) they connect with and why?
“As I sat watching this process, what came to my mind is the significance of the challenges we faced, particularly, in 1964 and 1968 and how African Americans came from being excluded to taking control led by Barack Obama,” said Ayuko Babu, Executive Director/Co-Founder of the Pan African Film Festival (PAFF), now in its 16th year. Babu, an20international legal, cultural and political consultant specializing in African affairs continued, “Without the struggles and abuse suffered for demanding the right to vote by African American leaders such as John Lewis, NAACP chairman Julian Bond, and thousands of others, African Americans would not have been part of this process and PAFF could not have existed.”
“I think Barack Obama’s acceptance speech was on target, focused, inspirational and covered the issues that we all must face as Americans. He was tough and clear on his message,” said Willis Edwards, national board member of the NAACP. “The selected speakers reached a ethnically diverse population and covered all the geographic areas of the United States. Obama is not the Black candidate, he is the Democratic nominee for Commander-in-Chief. Obama paid his respects to the anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech through his children: Rev. Bernice King and Martin Luther King III.”
Jackie Dupont Walker of Ward AME Economic Development Corporation said: “In September 1963, I became one of three black students to be admitted as freshmen to Florida State University (FSU). Sometimes when remembering that painful era of my life, I reflect upon how much it did or did not contribute to making life better. Forty-five years later, at FSU and in this country, there is still work to be done.
“If we remember that dre am from 1787 when Richard Allen led the first civil rights movement in this country and talked about self-determination, self-realization and worked for justice for all people, the dream has been alive for 221 years. That is my legacy as a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the church of Rosa Parks, A Phillip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Madam C. J. Walker, Frederick Douglas and so many others.
“The dream is not yet realized because, you and I and the media have mentioned Obama’s ‘race’ too often. Dr. King’s dream was for a day when the ‘race’ of the candidate would be subsumed among other issues like age, stance on issues, and character.”
“Barack Obama becoming the first African American to receive the Democratic nomination for president of the United States is a dream realized in and of itself, whether he wins or not,” said Angela Gibson, president of the Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce. “I believe this historic nomination will change some perceptions about African Americans. However, those that practice hate and bigotry will not appreciate this historic accomplishment.”
“Dr. King spoke of a day in this nation when class, gender and race will not serve as boundaries to the American Dream. Forty-five years later, we still have discrimination. We still face disparities in public education and pay,” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, formerly a Hillary supporter. “But watching Sen. Obama in Denver deliver one of the most moving speeches of my generation, I could only feel that the boundaries on the American dream have finally been lifted.”
Commenting on the importance of reporting historical events in the unique voice and words of African Americans, Natalie Cole, publisher/CEO of Our Weekly stated, “The role of the Black Press is to connect our past history to history in the making. It is our responsibility to illuminate where we have been, who we are, and where we are going—it behooves us to tell our own stories. The nomination of Barack Obama marks another milestone for African Americans and a source of pride for future generations.”
Babu referred to a number of other struggles and injustices, most notably, in 1965 in Lowndes County, Ala., where 80 percent of the residents were African Americans but were not registered voters. “Sista, there are so many examples of exclusion, I could speak volumes on the subject,” he explained. “I recommend reading Stokley Carmichael’s Black Power found at Eso Won Books.” Carmichael, Lewis, Bond, and so many others were the driving force behind the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC–pronounced “snick”) founded in 1960. SNCC challenged the state of Mississippi to give African Americans20the right to vote.
“To demonstrate how African Americans were disenfranchised, the Freedom Ballot–a mock election–was established in 1963. NAACP Leader Aaron Henry and a white man, Edwin King volunteered as the candidates. The mock election drew almost 80,000 African Americans. It was proof that African Americans would vote. In comparison, President John F. Kennedy drew about 80,000 at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1960.”
Dupont-Walker said: “Lewis’ re-cap of how this relates to the historical struggle was important because I was a part of the 1955 bus boycott in Tallahassee, FL that ran simultaneous to the Montgomery bus boycott–with my father, Rev. King Solomon Dupont, as one of the leaders. I found that Lewis hit the nail on the head. All of us were there to begin to bring closure to the connection between our struggle and the home stretch that will take us to victory in November.”
The 2008 DNC proved to be a historic week in many ways. Aug. 26 marked the 88th anniversary of Women’s Equality Day, when the nation celebrated the amendment giving women the right to vote. The community leaders were queried a second time and asked how the nomination of Barack Obama compares to this significant event.
Babu stated: “Fannie Lou Hamer’s courage to become a registered voter in 1962 even if it meant getting killed. She was arrested, abused by the police, was shot at, and received death threats but did not stop registering people to v ote and telling the country how African Americans were barred from voting.”
Dupont-Walker expressed: “Being both a woman and black in America gives me a unique “twofer” perspective. The measure to enact affirmative action was intended to be killed by the inclusion of women. It did not work. In fact, the statistics will reveal that as women, we have benefited in greater numbers than any ethnic/cultural minority group.
“As a black woman, I have surveyed the landscape and can honestly say that my inner feelings for the greatest gap in our quest for equality rest with the documented fact that my black roots are the most unfulfilled, so I will continue to fight for the rights of women, yet find a unique joy in knowing that a black American has been nominated to serve as CEO of this country. A woman had already attained a spot on a national party ticket. It is an important beginning.”
Edwards said: ” The anniversary of women getting the right to vote and the anniversary of the MLK speech are significant to many. It does show how far we have come in the civil rights movement. But we should not be lulled into thinking that just because Barack Obama may be elected President that our struggle for civil rights is over. CNN’s “Black in America” demonstrated that the civil rights struggle still goes=2 0on. And, a President Obama will have to take care of many issues affecting Americans; therefore, civil rights organizations and women’s organizations must keep the good fight going.”
History was witnessed on Aug. 28. It will take the nation to stand up and vote on Nov. 4 for change.
Living in America—hand to hand, across the nation
Living in America—got to have a celebration.
by Marie Y. Lemelle
Marie Y. Lemelle is a commissioner for the City of Glendale Commission on the Status of Women.
Photo courtesy of Platinum Star Public Relations.
Reprinted with permission from Our Weekly.