Sunday, January 27, 2008

Obama: A Change is Gonna Come

I wish my grandfather, “Highwater” (as known by his trucker’s CB radio handle), was alive to see this historic day. He was born and raised in Jim Crow South Carolina. His state of South Carolina remains scarred by slavery, secession, Dixiecrats, segregation, Ku Klux Klan raids, lynchings, Strom Thurmond, the Orangeburg Massacre, and Confederate flags. Highwater was born into a family who had difficulty imagining voting, let alone voting for a Black presidential candidate. Instead, the words of Benjamin “Pitchfork” Tillman (1900) celebrating the slaughter of Blacks trying to vote haunted my kin:

“We were sorry we had the necessity forced upon us, but we could not help it, and as white men we are not sorry for it, and we do not propose to apologize for anything we have done in connection with it. He is not meddling with politics, for he found that the more he meddled with them the worse off he got. As to his “rights” - I will not discuss them now….We of the South have never recognized the right of the negro to govern white men, and we never will. We have never believed him to be equal to the white man, and we will not submit to his gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him. I would to God the last one of them was in Africa and that none of them had ever been brought to our shores. But I will not pursue the subject further.”

And yet—amazingly—the citizens of South Carolina, under the watchful eye of their Tillman monument, put all of that behind them (at least for today) to award Barack Obama an extraordinary 55% of the vote win in their Democratic primary.

In his victory speech, Obama seemed to be talking directly to my grandfather: “this election is about the past versus the future…yes, we can change. Yes we can.”

I am certain that Highwater and the ancestors would believe.

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