tv Book TV After Words CSPAN January 16, 2010 10:00pm-11:00pm EST
desegregation court decision all the way to the voting rights act by lyndon johnson. in between what we are told the students and the nation is that there is all kinds of sedans and marches arches and demonstratiot occurred, but there are really done by the iconic people. basically rosa parks who just was so tired that she refused to give up from the bus in montgomery, alabama. basically a young preacher who even the president referred to during the election, this young preacher from georgia, which is dr. martin luther king jr., who sort of leads the masses of african-americans from racial oppression. this notion that rosa could sit and martin could do this stuff and barack could fly. all these things sound good, but really simplify a much more complicated history. that complicated history really
involves so many african-americans, women and men who proactively dismantled racial segregation, including rosa parks. rosa parks was an activist. she did not just refuse to give up her seat by accident. it was a concerted, strategic effort to try to transform democratic institutions. so the lesson that we have to impart to our kids and to the nation is that this isn't just something that happens by accident by these iconic figures like dr. martin luther king jr. who come down from on high and help the rest of us. i mean, that was really a debate during the election. i remember hillary clinton had said during the election that even though martin luther king jr. was important it took president to sign the voting rights act. when then senator obama kept invoking dr. king. he kept invoking dr. king in this fierce urgency of now. hillary clinton, then senator
clinton said, well, hold up a minute. it it took a president to sign that bill. she was invoking this notion that our politics are still runs in a top-down way. even though the team was this seminal figure you still need a president to transform the institution and nation. really i think the most transformative parts of our history, especially when we think about the civil-rights movement and the movements of the 1960's and '70's it is really ordinary people who transformed this. it is sharecroppers, seamstresses, people who were imprisoned, students, regular people who then converge with these figures to become iconic. >> host: you know, one of the things i love about your book was just the complexity of it and how you have taken the history of african-americans and really drawn a complex portrait, particularly of the iconic figures that you have cite.
martin luther king jr., for instance, you know, also was a critic of racism, and he protested against the vietnam war. he called attention to urban and rural poverty. he had a different actual life than often is described and remembered, as kind of this figure who, you know, somehow gave this great "i have a dream" speech. there were some hard-edged parts of dr. king's portfolio. >> guest: that is an important point. we are about to us celebrate dr. king's birthday, january 18th. king is one of the utmost critics of american democracy. he describes america as the biggest purveyor of violence in the world by 1967. we have to take note that his
riverside speeds, april 4th 1967 in new york city when he first comes out against the vietnam war in a very robust public day is one year to the day before he is assassinated. when we think about king, by the time king is going to chicago. he is in chicago to try to transform the slums. he talked about a slum clearance campaign. he is talking about poverty. he is talking about economic marginal losses in a poor people. laborers. king makes a very famous speech where he talked about all labor has dignity, which is one of his last speech is. kingsport people campaign is something that we shot aside as well. we've really keep dr. king frozen on august 20th, 1963, with the "i have a dream" speech right here in washington, d.c.
and we don't think about the king who was really much more combative, even though he was non-violent. king believed that you could use non-violence as a moral and political force, really a battering ram to transform democracy. but to say king was not combative. he was really combative. he did not believe that violence was unacceptable politically orr morally. >> host: it also is true that, everybody embraces it now, but back at the time even among african americans a lot of people did not want him coming to their towns and neighborhoods because when he left he had made life more difficult for many of the sioux had to stay behind. >> guest: absolutely. and we think about king and the southern christian conference, they are the premier mobilizes of the civil-rights movement. they are not grass-roots organizers. led by stokely carmichael and in an earlier incarnation by john
lewis. king goes into places like birmingham, albany, georgia, chicago,and he really stirs things up. that is what is so interesting. very, very combative demanding dozens of things from mayor daley in chicago, an early version of affirmative-action. he really precipitates fear and loathing among the white population, but also among certain black power brokers who have their own relationship with city hall and mayor daley. they look at king as this outsider who is really upsetting the delicate balance of power in their own city. >> host: let me pause in this conversation just ask you, what compelled you to write this book? >> guest: well, i was really, really transformed and impacted by the 2008 election. in a way, what i wanted to do
was really connect the election results with my own work on postwar african american history, as well as with the civil-rights and black power movements. i think one of the least reported stories of the election was the impact of that black power radicalism had on the nation in terms of transforming the nation enough to elect the first black president. when we talked about obama during the 2008 election most people talk about civil rights, including the then senator obama. one of his most famous speeches was in 2007 commemorating selma at a demonstration that occurred in march 1965 that really culminated in the passage of the voting rights act several months later. famously king and others are really turned away from the bridge. there is going to be a lot of racial violence against those divestitures. john lewis who is the head of the student nonviolent
coordinating committee will be brutally beaten. it is one of the iconic images of the civil rights era. what senator obama said then at that speech was that the new generation of civil rights activists were the joshua generation. he called dr. king's generation the moses' generation, and it was really the joshua generation, people like him, who were going to see the promised land. he put himself directly as an air and beneficiary of the civil-rights movement of. in contrast we really never talked as a nation about black power. and when we did it was only in a negative context. one of the things i wanted to show and argue in this book was that the black power movement, even though it was a very combative movement, even though it was very forceful in its criticism of racial segregation, racism, it really did laid the foundations alongside of that civil rights movement nt for
transforming this nation to have the first black president. >> host: you write that the black power movement remains the most misunderstood social movement of the postwar era. >> guest: absolutely. when we think about black power in the popular imagination still we usually think of black power as a movement of violence, a g un-touting black panthers and others, a movement that was a nti-white. a movement that really dragged down more successful counterparts, namely civil-rights. so basically movements that practices politics without portfolios. the civil-rights movement's evil twin that wrecked dr. king's dream of a beloved community, when, in fact, when we think about the black power movement and look at what occurred empirically black power really grows out of the same historical context that produces civil-rights. it is really growing out of earlier 20th-century
african-american activism, people like marcus, hubert harrison. and in its postwar context it is growing out of the controversy. but also secular radical. james baldwin and lorraine hansberry. and we we think about black powr it has a very ecumenical, very secular side to it, and it is a side that people don't discuss. one of the most interesting aspects of studying the black power movement is a way in which there is an intellectual, social, cultural component. so on one score a black power activists may try to transform curriculums in high schools and colleges. on another they tried to transform african-american consciousness through cultural centers, poetry and prose. on another they tried to push for anti poverty and welfare rights. when we think about black power
in our popular conception we don't think of black women being at the forefront of that movement, but black women really were some of the key activists in that movement, and not just the iconic figures like angela davis who were very important, but also poor black women who were activists in places like durham, north carolina and baltimore, maryland and places like philadelphia. so certainly black women participated in that movement in organizations like s.n.i.k. and organizations like the black panthers. for the most part more black women and black people participated just in ad hoc grass-roots organizations, both on university campuses and especially off campuses in the 1960's and '70's. >> host: you mentioned a number of people who were kind of in the shadows. i want to take a personal note to cite one, william worthy, who turns out was an adviser to a
black student at boston university when i was a student there. bill worthy was there first. you mentioned him in another -- in a number of instances where he was one of those people kind of in the forefront among the african american radicals. got to know malcolm x and played a role as an african-american journalist, the first months ago and it's i know when you could not go to china. >> guest: absolutely. william were the is a great great example of one of these unsung heroes. born in 1921. he is one of the key radical black journalists of the 1950's and '60's. he goes into the soviet union in the late 1940's. he goes into china in the 1950's. he is one of the key black journalists who is in cuba during the cuban revolution. he is a friend and ally of
malcolm x. his key domestic idea is something called the freedom now party, and it is really going to be one of three black independent political parties in the 1960's. one is the freedom now party. the other is the mississippi freedom democratic party. led by a man who was not allowed to be seated at the 1964 democratic national convention in atlantic city, new jersey, and the other is going to be the lounge county freedom organization which is nicknamed the black panther party, which is in alabama. that is started with grass-roots locals with the help of activists. and when we think about william worthy, worthy is very interesting. he is a black power activist who is also a pacifist. he went to jail for refusing to fight in the war. worthy wants a foreign policy that is based on human rights. way before president jimmy carter talks about a foreign
policy based on human rights william birdie was y was talkint this. and worthy is one of the people who is part of the robson's generation. i call it the robson's generation, the group of activists to come of age during the prime political time of paul robson who is really the key african american political and cultural figure of the 1930's and '40's and '50's's who is going to be really a marginalized by the cold war. between 1961 and 1968 his passport is revoked, and he is not going to be able to earn a living outside of the country because of his left-wing beliefs. he never joined the communist party, but certainly is very sympathetic to marxism and communism, and he is going to really suffer because of that. wordy worthy is extraordinary, and he provides a different genealogy of black power, people like william worthy, blair richardson, who was the activist
from cambridge, maryland who really was called the leading general of the civil rights movement who waged an unprecedented struggle in cambridge, maryland in 1963 and '64 to help desegregate the city. met with attorney general robert f. kennedy to sign a peace accord in the early 1960's, but also goes to malcolm x's november grassroots conference in detroit where malcolm delivers his famous message where he lays out a secular vision of the domestic national also international, global, political revolutions. >> host: you write that malcolm x was nothing less than the civil-rights era is invisible man. >> guest: absolutely. in the terms of the way in which historians view malcolm x, mountain is not part of the
civil-rights movement. he usually only pops up around 1963, '64, and he only serves as a short note to dr. king. he is characterized as this profit, who is not a brilliant political strategist, not a political organizer and is not an important figure. >> host: as you know back in the '60's probably the most important political grass-roots organizer in harlem. >> guest: absolutely. released from prison in 1962 after serving really six years in prison for burglary. he transforms himself from malcolm little to malcolm x while in charlestown prison in massachusetts. he comes out of prison, and he works a number of different odd jobs while also working as a muslim minister. in 1964 he is opening up the loft in philadelphia, but he also becomes the head of muslim mosque que number seven.
and right away malcolm becomes the key muslim, black muslim figure in the entire group. the group goes from a group that has several hundred when he joined in the late 1940's and early '50's to having over 25,000 by the time he leaves the group. but is really important about malcolm is between 1954 and 1964 when he is really his most active in the group, he leads the nation of islam by january 1964. he transforms that group from a sectarian group to a secular group. he really transforms a group that is no on anyone's radar to a group that is considered by the fbi to be one of the leading subversive groups in the country. by 1959 there is a mike wallace documentary in the summer of 1959 that makes malcolm and the nation in national and international figures. >> host: louis lomax. >> guest: louis lomax is the
key african american reporter before his untimely death, one of the key black journalists who interviewed malcolm. also becomes an expert on the nation of islam. >> host: one of the things about malcolm, and all of those things are true that you said, but there was a kind of raw language that was just kind of a searing, piercing. he would say these things. here's something, you know, a quote during a press conference. he was obviously someone who thought that american democracy was just not equipped to protect black americans, and that was not, you know, made for african-americans at that time. at a press conference in washington, d.c. he said if anyone sets a dog on a black man the black man should kill the dog whether he is a four-legged dog or two-legged dog. that is hard to say in public,
i'm sure, at that time. just maybe kind of put that in perspective. even today we adopted an important african american leader standing up saying things like that. >> guest: absolutely. one of malcolm's most important characteristics was the ability to speak truth to power, and he is really going to be probably the most eloquent radical critic of american democracy during the postwar postwar period. malcolm also is bold enough to criticize president kennedy for not acting proactively enough in birmingham, alabama. what is interesting when we study malcom x and look at him is that malcolm really serves as a counterpart to king, but in a way that people usually don't think of it. they think of him as a counterpart to king as the good black man, and malcolm is the bad, nasty, anti-white black man. no, malcolm is the counterpart saying things that king can't
say very boldly in a very confrontational manner, but that actually give king room to negotiate and give not just king, but roy wilkens of the naacp. people are looking at malcolm as being so extreme because of his robust criticism of american democracy, but also against the politics of white supremacy that it gives these other civil-rights leaders from to maneuver. so this whole notion, the quote that you take from, malcolm had a great gift for speaking to ordinary people. jimmy baldwin, the great african-american writer, a genius writer of the 1960's and '70's has often said that malcolm had such a love for african-american people that he spoke to them in the language that they understood. one of the reasons malcolm was able to sell effectively communicate with african americans is that he was really from the black working class. malcolm had been hanging out
with hustlers. he was in the roxbury. he was in detroit. he was in harlem. before he becomes a muslim mosque minister he was selling people illegal substances in harlem. so malcolm knew how ordinary, everyday people in harlem felt, how black people felt. he knew african-american culture in barber shops, beauty shops. he understood the african-american church, not just the nation of islam, but the black church as well. and we think about malcolm x he becomes a very singularly important figure, but not just as some kind of profit of rage or some kind of icon. he is actually an important grass-roots local organizer, and not just in new york, but in detroit and chicago and other places, as well. >> host: and long after his death he becomes enough of an american figure to get a postage stamp. [laughter] >> guest: certainly.
there is certainly a rehabilitation of malcolm x that has occurred over the last 20 years. we start with spike lee's film "malcolm x" in 1992, the reissue of the autobiography of malcolm x and the stamp, but even barack obama's autobiography. he expresses admiration. he says that he was inspired by malcolm's determination. the one i am reminded am remint justice clarence thomas also embraced malcolm x and had the collective recordings of malcolm x and found something important and the malcolm x's theories
themselves. >> guest: absolutely. i think they admire that notion of a bootstrap pulling. this all notion that malcolm would also say that black people had to do for themselves. malcolm and the nation of islam refused handouts from the white man. so conservatives would definitely find that something that was a great attribute. >> host: another important figure in your book, and he devoted considerable space in chapters is stokely carmichael. >> guest: stokely carmichael, i believe, is one of the most important african-american political activists of the postwar period and the civil rights and black power period. he is going to be a key civil-rights activist who becomes a black power icon. and what i mean by that is
coakley is really one of the only black power figures who had also been a civil rights organizer in the n the deep sou. he is from the caribbean. he is born in trinidad. emigres he immigrates to the united states two weeks before his 11th birthday in 1952. he lives in the bronx. he is one of the only african-american students who tests in to the high school in 1956. that is one of the most prestigious high schools in your city. even as the high schools in he is an activist. by 1963 enrolls in howard university . and really stokely carmichael becomes a freedom rider and is arrested in mississippi. he really celebrates his 20th birthday in prison for civil-rights activity. that is going to be the first of 27 arrests between 1961 and 1966. what is really important about
stokely carmichael that i tried to convey in this book is that carmichael is one of the few americans domestically during the 1960's who actually believes would democracy. but i mean by that is undergoes physical peril and violence as the hands of hate groups and really domestic terrorists in places like the mississippi delta, in alabama, in cambridge, maryland, in washington, d.c. to promote voting rights and citizenship rights for all african-americans. >> host: i want to get into, we are getting close to our break time. i want to get into some temporary thoughts and get your opinion on what is happening now in the current state. we will be back in a couple of minutes, and we can talk about current events of little bit. >> guest: absolutely.
>> "after words" and several other c-span programs are available for download. more with peniel joseph in a moment. >> jim lehrer, what are you reading? >> well, i'm just now finishing dan brown's "the last symbol, " which i have been reading while listening to it's on cd in the car. in terms of the book i am reading it is actually hold it in my hand is a book about running, and the title is what i think about when i'm running." i'm not a runner, but it is what went through his mind and all of that. that's where i am. >> i fully expected to hear some public policy title from you.
>> i read that public policy stuff, but that is where my job. i do that's on company time. no, all of that is very important to i read for a living. on my own time i read for joy. >> jim lehrer of the "news hour." >> "after words" with peniel joseph and kevin merida continued. >> host: welcome back to book tv's "after words". we are talking with professor peniel joseph. and a very interesting book, which i rmend. "dark days, bright nights: from black power to barack obama." it's a great piece of work, and congratulations to you. >> guest: thank you. >> host: let's talk a little
bit about, you mentioned in your book some of the media coverage. you make reference to the media coverage of president barack obama and some of his views and speeches about race he said it not has been a sharp, as precise as it should be. tell me how you think obama as the first african-american president has been covered? >> guest: i think he has been covered any unique and interesting ways. in terms of the politics of race, race is always shadowing in contouring this presidency. specifically what i talk about in the book and i tried to write about is the way in which the president is trying to talk and address race as a president of the united states, how the media has really read the speeches in ways differently than i would have. for instance, there is an naacp speech that the president gave
last year in 2009 celebrating the hundredth anniversary of that civil rights organization. in that speech he really does a couple of things. one, he critiques african americans who aren't doing the right thing, people who are taking care of their kids, who aren't, you know, promoting education for their kids, but he also acknowledges that racism is still a huge part of the united states. he does a litany and roll call to the rights activists. he talks about criminal justice, the racial disparity there. it is a well-balanced speech. what was interesting is the reporting afterwards says, well, obama tells black people to get their act together. it is interesting that the media when the president is talk about race, the most interesting aspect that they find is that he is chastising african-americans. that is what happened in the
campaign as well. i think that has produced some tension between jesse jackson and then senator obama. another example in terms of race was the gates incident in cambridge with the president said that the cambridge police department had acted stupidly, and immediately the media came down on him as sort of siding with african-americans or quote unquote even showing his true color. he was definitely a partisan. he definitely was on the side of black votes. then senator obama runs as somebody who is above the fray, somebody who can be an honest arbiter or umpire in terms of race matters. the great example of obama as umpire is the famous race speech in march of 2008, and that was the speech that the president made while he was solicitor while his association with the trinity church, his 20-year association with the trinity church in chicago and his
pastor, jeremiah wright, threatened to derail his candidacy because lawyers had gotten videotape of jeremiah right basically harshly criticizing u.s. u.s. domestic d foreign policy. this is obama's preacher. obama gave a very good speech on race that was perceived as being extraordinary and basically said, he parced well. on one level he disagreed, but on another level he did see where he was coming from. >> host: and ultimately had to cut his pastor loose and ultimately apologize for his choice of words during the gates episode. how do you think he handled, you know, these controversial
moments that you just cited? >> guest: well, i think he has handled it as best as he can in the sense that as the first black president he is forced, out of necessity, to tread lightly on racial matters. he did this as a candidate, too. he would say on one hand that, yes, america has this history of racial slavery, this awful history of segregation, but on the other he was a prime example of the progress that has been made. another great example is that the time he mentioned race during his inaugural speech. he talked about those of us who have felt the lash of the whip. that was a reference to slavery. he talked about segregation at one point. and then he finally talked about his father. he said that his father might not have been able to sit at a restaurant in washington, d.c. decades ago because of his race. he was right about that.
so on certain levels sometimes obama place, you know, history-professor-in-chief, and not just commander-in-chief and he imparts a real lesson on to politics, but for the most part he tries to stay away from about racial matters, which is very impactful on the african-american community, especially in terms of public policy. >> host: there was a recent flap that was disclosed in a new book by two journalists called "game change," the book, which revealed a private conversation harry reid had, the senate democratic leader weeks essentially backing obama. this was an attribute, calling him, the fact that he was a
light-skinned african-american and did not use the negro dialect unless he wanted to. [laughter] and there was a lot the back and forth on that over the weekend. what do you think of that, that comment and the controversy? >> guest: i just think it shows the complexity of the african american when they're trying to just the sincerity of their supporters. in terms of harry reid politically if not a right-wing politician he is a democrat. he is one of the people who is pushing health care. he is neutral initially during the campaign, but when obama became the nominee he was a vehement supporters, and now we get through this book behind the scene he was a supporter who wanted about to run. so on one level fast we can think of reid as somebody who, even though he is a great
admirer of obama, still had his own racial issues in terms of the way in which he pursues by people. and he is really coming out of a baby boomer generation. the notion that obama is light-skinned and not speaking as a negro dialect, even the term negro is a very antiquated term, and it certainly is a pre-black-power-movement term. so i think it just says that when we think about our politics that race still matters. even people who publicly will proclaim that it doesn't, privately their words show something different. >> host: the suggestion, i guess, was that him being l ight-skinned, his skin color and how he spoke would accrue to his benefit and make him more palatable to a mainstream voting audience and make him more
successful. what are people saying? when you say that someone does not speak in a black dialect or that you focus on the skin color, what kind of person are they saying he is? >> guest: they are saying he is closer to what mainstream white america would find acceptable, and that he is not the typical black person. i think it's what they're saying. i think it's very interesting reid's comments, because they were very, they were set within the context of support and actually contrast with something that, something former president bill clinton got into hot water for saying during the 2008 campaign when he said jesse jackson ran a good campaign in south carolina and barack obama has run a good campaign in south carolina. the inference taken by many was, the notion that obama was another jesse jackson and that clinton was trying to sort of this mirror the obama campaign.
everybody knows the black candidate never wins. you have to be a candidate who happens to be black to win. obama really flipped the script and became this phenomenon. >> host: is he the only african american to get elected president? is he the only person on the scene who could have gotten elected president? >> guest: i think so. in a certain context we can say he leapfrogged over certain people. somebody like gerald ford jr. was considered an up and-comer. >> host: who is considering running for. >> guest: senate. in 2000 and 2004 back-to-back they gave these bright up-and-coming african american men the keynote address him. the first black person to do a keynote address was barbara jordan in 1976. but in back-to-back in 2000 in los angeles, and this is a convention that barack obama
could not attend. >> host: i was there. >> guest: he could not give in. he could not even good credentials. by 2004 his fortunes had changed, and he gave an extraordinary speech. >> host: that catapulted. >> guest: that catapulted him into the senate. he was not a senator even. i will say, yes. he was the only person in that context who could have won. >> host: colin powell. declined to run in 1996 was someone who polled really well. is he someone who could have been elected president of this country? >> guest: he would have had a tough time getting his party's nomination. i think he knew that. colin powell is a republican who is much more to moderate themes of the kind of republicanism that is now a lost art. i think of people like nelson rockefeller. there is a republican party of
rockefeller, a rockefeller wing in the republican party which were really moderate compared to contemporary republicans. i think colin powell is that somebody who republicans love to look at and uphold and say, you know what, this is such a great, great figure. he was secretary of state, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. he is this role model. he would have had a tough time getting his own party's nomination. >> host: after barack obama is elected president there was a sense that all things were possible. a lot of people felt there was great euphoria. they said it said a lot about the country and what it had, how it had changed and evolved. one year into his presidency what do you see has happened in the country, and has the country changed? >> guest: well, i think it is a mixed response by the country in the sense that the euphoria
after november 4th has certainly reseeded in light of the enormous political challenges that obama as faced. but i also think there was the notion, which was erroneous, that the nation had become a pose to racial nation in the age of obama. this notion of post race was this notion that well, obama's election proved that active racism was over and rested matter anymore. when we think about some of the pressures the president is facing now, not just responses to the president, but things like unemployment. the unemployment rate in the country right now is very, very high. 10%. the unemployment rate for african-americans is double. in places like new york city for black men in this trouble. there are great recent news stories about how even african-americans who are college educated are disproportionally more unemployed than their counterparts.
we are still seeing that even with the euphoria of the obama victory and as significant as that victory is, it is really a watershed in american history and world history, it is still not necessarily translating immediately into ending racial disparity in this country. >> host: some have criticized president obama, particularly some in african-american communities, for not focusing enough on some of those disparities, particularly the record unemployment among african americans in some places. give it some concentrated attention. what do you make of those critiques? >> guest: well, i think they exemplify the dilemma that black americans face having the first black president. because historically we have never had african american leaders within the black community, someone like a dr. king who also had an elected
office, let alone the highest office in the country. when we think about obama throughout the 2008 election season he became one of the most powerful black leaders in the country as the obama phenomenon evolved. he went from polling behind hillary clinton to dominating in south carolina and really receiving over 90% of the black vote in the election in november. now blacks are faced with the fact that he is not just a black leader, he is also president of the united states. black leadership, and this is everything from the congressional black caucus, they actually need to exert pressure on this black president. he really can't dawn both hats at the same time. when he is thinking about employment and unemployment he is trying to think of universal solutions whereas black leaders want him to focus, rightfully so, on racial disparity.
and they are finding it pretty hard and a unique situation in terms of, how do you criticize the first african american president to has enormous reserves of goodwill within the black community. obama can go into any any black church, any place all across this country, and he is going to be embraced. at the same time some of those same people embracing him are suffering. the quandary that he is facing, and i don't think so far that black leaders have shown the right balance on how to criticize the president in a way that has traction with the larger black community. >> host: he grew up, in part, in large part in hawaii and has embraced the whole notion that this is a multi-cultural nation and the possibilities of
multiculturalism. you write in your book that he sees black power as a kind of anachronous. >> guest: absolutely. it really ascribes to the popular vision. in his book he describes an older gentleman who serves as a mentor to him in hawaii who would always be talking about this black power stuff, as obama puts it. he also describes meeting black nationalists in chicago, and that, you know, he listens to them very y carefully, but at the same time he feels that their view of the world is narrow and too static. and it is an unchanging a few of racial discrimination and segregation. at one point he describes listening to a speech by the former stokely carmichael by the early '80's at columbia university and says that he is speaking. a woman asks the question. the way in which he responds is
a madman or a saint. so obama's view of black power is really something that is anachronistic to something so that was suitable to the politics and 1960's and '70's, but is not flexible enough to take into account the changing racial and political demographics of our multi-cultural present. >> host: and yet he has opened the white house, made it available to people of different, you know, ideological and the wide range of the spectrum. al sharpton who is somebody who has been down to the white house. at least in the popular imagination being considered kind of a fiery black activist. he is someone who, you know, has access to that white house and has been down to see the president. what do you make of how obama has handled being accessible and
how he has reached out to african-americans? >> guest: again, this is complicated because on one level he is the first black president who has not necessarily had to do the same kind of outreach as his predecessors because he is so popular in the african-american community. i think one of the things we are seeing with jesse jackson or al sharpton or even the congressional black caucus, they are all wondering how can they provide some kind of accountability for this president who is so popular within the black community. so on one level i think his accessibility has been fine, but does access equal public policy? does access equal power? and right now we are thinking about black issues, that has not translated. there has been no discernible transformation in terms of the white house on trying to specifically address african-american issues, even though there is urban policy of
reach, but not the kind of dramatic public policy initiatives that some black leaders. >> host: where do you think we are in this nation with race relations? >> guest: well, i think we are really at a unique crossroads. and on one level obama's victory can be attributed to millions of members of voters, white, black, latino, multiracial the spectrum, voters who are under 25, under 30 who participated in the process for the first time in 2008 and really looked at obama as just another candidate. even though they might have their own individual racial hangups they did not solely view that campaign and that candidate through the prism of race. at the same time we have an older generation. we can get back to the harry reid comment. an older generation who still is
coming to grips with the multicultural, multiracial nature of this democracy. obama is a victory is very, very important. the symbolism is very important, but it has also been exaggerated. it has been exaggerated in the sense that obama's a victory equals the end of racism. a obama's victory equals a post-racially united states. there is one aspect of obama's victory that encourages a kind of become a kind of mythology, a myth making that the united states has completely turned the corner and that if you don't make it in this country it is really based on your sole individual behavior and not any kind of racial institutional racism or a kind of racial discrimination are barriers. the positive to the victory are the way in which obama as president really delivers a different image of blackness, not only to the rest of the country and globally, but also
to blacks themselves, especially young people. one of the best things about obama being president, and we will go back to that homily that he started with, barack can fly. barack can win, so your kids can fly. the resonance that this has on african-american children and children's of color, white children, too, is going now we can't tell. we are going to have to see. you hope that resonance is connected also. one of the interesting measures of a pose to post obama united ,
whether he serves one or two terms, is what is the quantifiable transformation if any that his presidency has on black people. >> host: one of the things as you mentioned, the nightly news, you see a black family in places, whether it is coming out of the -- on the south lawn, whether it is playing with the dog, or getting ice-cream with the girls, you see a portrait of a black family in the highest levels of power, the nightly experience as opposed to, i don't know how many news is in your town, but it is nothing but crime in most towns. so that certainly has an impact image-wise, i would think. >> guest: absolutely. one of the biggest things that obama selection did in terms of transforming aesthetic of american democracy is projecting
that consistent image of this impact whole black family. the president of the first lady, michele obama, the children, sasha and malia. also even the grandmother, michelle's mother is in the white house for the first time since the truman administration. so that has been very, very, very important. positive, but at the same time i would also argue that those images promote aspects of a kind of racial backlash that we have seen against this president, too. we think about the 912 movement and the birth movement and this whole notion that the president is not a citizen and some other -- >> guest: like hitler and. >> guest: absolutely. we are talking about criticism that crosses the line from just legitimate public policy differences into the bassist's racial stereotypes and racist
caricatures. >> host: what is next for you after this work? >> guest: well, i am working on the autobiography of stokely carmichael. >> host: pretty compelling. your students, what do they make of this period? >> guest: i think they are fascinated by it. what is very interesting, and college students that you teach our 18-22. many of them are born in the '90's at this point. this is way after the civil rights act, the voting rights act, way after the death of martin luther king. this is really ancient history, quote, for them. they are very, very fascinated by this. many of my students really followed the election very closely and intently. so i think race continues to be this important crucible for them to go through in terms of understanding the history of
this country and really understanding our democracy. >> host: do you think that this sets the stage for, this election sets the stage for more african americans to be elected president? is this something that can happen, you know, again and again? was this unique, the circumstances, the man, the moment? >> guest: i think it is both. i think it can happen again, but i also think it is unique. one of the things we are seeing is that another african-american candidate who is like obama, man or woman, potentially could win and could run, but at the same time can we get a black candidate who is considered very robustly dark-skinned, who speaks in the cadences of the black community, can that person win? right now, no.
i would say no because they would turn off all large segment of the electorate. i think that is going to be the true measure and test of our transformation as a democracy when, again, but reid was saying, and reid was saying it in support. just the politics of realism about the electorate is shaped. somebody who is not l ight-skinned, not perceived as speaking as if he were not a black person could win an election. >> guest: did you believe that a woman would be elected before an african-american? >> guest: well, it seemed as if senator clinton was definitely poised. when we think about women around the country they are definitely ready for that. so in the way it seemed as if that would happen before an african-american, especially before barack obama arrived on the scene if we look at the landscape of black elected leaders, political leaders, it
did not seem as if anyone was imminent, had an imminent possibility of becoming president. >> host: we are just about out of time. i want to say i enjoyed this a lot. we have been talking with peniel joseph, professor of history. and has a very deep, complex book "dark days, bright nights: from black power to barack obama." congratulations and continued success out there. >> guest: thank you. i enjoyed the conversation.
>> thank you, blair. thanks to everybody for coming. i'm going to try and get a little bit. okay. thanks to the woodrow wilson center and the cold war international history project and everybody that is working on an interested in these issues. it is really a pleasure to be here. i want to tell you first a little bit about how this whole project got started. it was 1998. russia was a sullen, dark, very, very unhappy place that autumn. banks were closed, people were waiting in line, lost their savings, not paid for months. a young man who was working for the united states department of energy was on a mission to go to all facilities that have highly enriched uranium and plutonium
and video cameras and portal monitors and all the fancy equipment that the united states had been stalled was working. and at the institute of theoretical and experimental physics located on a very pleasant 89-acre estate in moscow he went in and all the cameras were working, and the videos were on, all the projections there. at this institute there were dozens and dozens of 6-inch long canisters clad in aluminum of highly enriched uranium which they had used for their experiments. as you look around you realize that there was one very unanticipated problem, all of the guards who ran the video cameras and watched over the uranium, nobody looking bad video cameras. this young fellow gathered all
the employees at the institute that he could find, 32 people, into the deputy director's office on a freezing, cold day, so cold he said he had never quite experienced anything like that, even in moscow. he took out of his wallet all of the cash the department of energy had given him for this one trip, his per diem, and put it on the table and said, will you get the guards to stay here for two months until i can get back. $50 a month. this was 1998, not just after the collapse of the soviet union. the material, the uranium was sitting in those canisters without a single guard on a cold moscow afternoon. a few months after that i visited the institute of physics and power engineering south of moscow, another famous russian nuclear research institutes. there are 1