Obama's Conspicuous Absence Overshadows Annual Gathering
State of the Black Union 2008
by Kam Williams
Barack Obama opted to remain on the campaign trail in Ohio rather
than accept an invite to address the convention of African-American
intellectuals who had gathered to participate in the 9th Annual State of
the Black Union. Curiously, despite the fact that Senator Hillary
Clinton did attend, Obama had enough advocates on hand to counterbalance
any potential blowback generated by his conspicuous absence.
In fact, some of the speakers opted to lobby openly on his behalf, such as Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr. who warned the audience not to ’miss this moment,’ which he euphorically referred to as ’Obamarama!’ The event was staged in New Orleans at the Convention Center, the site where Hurricane Katrina refugees were stranded without food, water or any essential services for days on end.
Mayor Ray Nagin was on the dais during the morning session, alongside such luminaries as Reverend Jackson, Congresswomen Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Memphis high school student Darrin Keith Boyce, Bush administration rep and EEOC Chairman Naomi Churchill, Former Congressman Cleo Fields (D-LA), New Orleans Pastor Melvin Jones, Professor Michael Eric Dyson, Xavier University President Dr. Norman Francis and PolicyLink's Angela Glover Blackwell.
The afternoon portion of the program featured Princeton University Professors Dr. Cornel West and Dr. Eddie Glaude, comedian Dick Gregory, Democratic National Committee member Donna Brazile, Florida State University Professor Na’im Akbar, Morehouse College President Robert Franklin, former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Dillard University student Stephanie Woodward, Katrina Survivor Herreast Harrison and TransAfrica Forum Executive Director Nicole Lee.
Besides Obama generally getting a pass, Mayor Nagin seemed to be treated with kid gloves, too, in light of the ostensible gentrification of what he once promised would remain a ’Chocolate City.’ Dick Gregory vehemently defended Ray's embrace of the controversial nickname, pointing out that nobody ever complained when New Orleans was called ’Sin City,’ yet everybody unfairly got bent out of shape over the relatively benign sobriquet ’Chocolate City.’
In fact, Mr. Gregory enjoyed the most memorable moments, primarily because he repeatedly went for the joke, this in sharp contrast to his colleagues who were soberly focusing on the social, political and economic concerns of the black community. As for Hillary, she appeared onstage alone with host Tavis Smiley at the very end of a very long day. However, her brief comments amounted to an anti-climatic uphill battle, because she had to follow a long line of inspirational speakers who had long since whipped the probably already pro-Obama crowd into a frenzy over her opponent. More a Barack pep rally than a critical assessment of African-American issues.
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