Obama: Standing on Their Shoulders - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

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While America relished in the historic moment of Sen. Barack Obama’s triumph over Sen. Hillary Clinton last Tuesday, it is unclear whether the country remembers the roadblocks that had to be cleared or the battles that were waged to solidify Obama’s success.

A little more than four decades ago, it was uncommon to see a black man vote without intimidation, let alone run for office. Now, 68% of voters say they believe America is ready for a black president, according to a CBS poll.

This recent reality is an indirect result of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which some call the single most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever passed by Congress. The act prohibited the use of violence and intimidation to deny a person the right to vote.

Civil rights organizations rallied their resources to push voting rights to the forefront of issues leading up to the 1964 presidential election.

“Barack is standing on the shoulders of Fannie Lou Hamer and the named and unnamed people who worked behind and in front of the scenes so that we could be empowered to have our voices heard,” says Desiree S. Pedescleaux, president of the National Conference of Black Political Scientists.

Obama’s speech during the 2004 Democratic National Convention helped ignite his popularity and set the stage for his eventual bid for the White House. Similarly, in 1964, Fannie Lou Hamer, a sharecropper and civil rights activist, made one of the most notable speeches ever broadcast from the floors of the DNC. In her speech, Hamer questioned whether this was really “the land of the free and the home of the brave” when lives were threatened because of attempting to vote.

Despite losing her job and receiving a savage beating prompted by her voter registration efforts, Hamer joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and continued to register others to vote in Mississippi. She organized the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party because the Mississippi Democratic Party refused to seat any black delegates. Hamer’s speech in 1964 and the work of the Freedom Democrats influenced the Democratic Party to adopt a clause which demanded equal representation at the 1968 delegation.

Between 1965 and 1988, black voter registration rates increased by 63% in Mississippi alone. In five southern states, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas, the total increase of black elected officials between 1970 and 2000 was more than tenfold.

“Prior to the Voting Rights Act there were about 70 black elected officials. It soared to around 2,000 soon after, and now there are some 10,000 changing the law to bring down the barriers,” says Michael Fauntroy, assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University.

The act helped open the door for the first black mayors and congressmen including politicians such as Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, the first black senator elected since Reconstruction, and Cleveland’s Carl B. Stokes, the nation’s first black mayor.

“[Former] mayors such as David Dinkins [of New York] and Tom Bradley [of Los Angeles] made Americans look at black elected officials in different ways. Even those

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, SocialWayne.com chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining BlackEnterprise.com as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and BlackEnterprise.com helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.

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