President Barack Obama won a second term in office in November 2012 after decisively edging out Republican challenger Mitt Romney. For many blacks, Obama’s successful reelection was more meaningful than when he first won office, given that as president he’d battled birthers’ rumors, overt and covert racism and a fiercely divided Congress. But as Obama was sworn in for a second term during the 2013 presidential inauguration in January, not all blacks had kind words for the president. While some prominent blacks praised his work thus far, others criticized Obama for not doing more to fight against oppression, racism and other social ills that disproportionately affect African Americans. This lineup of quotes from civil rights and spiritual leaders about President Obama highlights the diverse political opinions found in the black community.
Angela Davis: Obama Not Sign of Post-Racial World
Radio program “Democracy Now!” reported that activist Angela Davis said that Obama’s historic election and re-election did not mark the end of racism and injustice in the United States. “The past still haunts us,” she said. “Its ghosts ride the echoes of our lives. To overcome poverty, to overcome racism, we must also overcome xenophobia, homophobia. Justice for African Americans is organically linked to justice for Palestinians. The struggle goes on.”
Benjamin Jealous: Obama Symbolizes Civil Rights Triumph
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous suggested that Obama’s presidency isn’t so much about one man as it is about the success of the civil rights movement. “The challenge for our country was never to see the day when a person of color would be president,” Jealous said. “No, the challenge for our country was to ensure that it would be safe for it to happen again and again. We knew that it could be Condoleezza Rice. It could be Colin Powell. But we got Barack Obama. We got a man who is a product of a progressive movement. And as we stand here … ever so humble, reminiscing about ancestors who did not see this day, about people like Medgar Evers who gave their lives so we would see this day, let us walk out of here …talking to our children as a movement, as members of a movement that is triumphant.”
Cornel West: Obama Is No Martin Luther King Jr.
Academic and activist Cornel West was a vocal critic of President Obama long before the second inauguration. Before that event, however, West criticized the president for choosing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s bible for his swearing in ceremony. West accused Obama of using King’s “prophetic fire as just a moment in presidential pageantry,” describing it as a “political calculation.” West added, “I got upset because you don’t play with Martin Luther King Jr. and you play with his people, and by his people what I mean is people of good conscience, fundamentally committed to peace, and truth, and justice.”
Tavis Smiley: Obama Needs to Fight Against Oppression
Television personality and community leader Tavis Smiley said in a piece he wrote for CBS News that Obama’s presidency is not the fulfillment of King’s dream. He explained, “Obama might be a good down payment, but he is not the fulfillment of King’s dream. We’re still a long way away from that. The interrelated triple threat of poverty, militarism and racism that King talked about still looms large in a yet-deeply-divided America. In the spirit of MLK, it's time for President Obama to deliver a major policy speech on the eradication of poverty in America. He ought to tell us how the richest nation in the history of the world is going to confront the scourge of poverty.
The Rev. Greggory L. Brown: Obama Presidency Yet to Spark Change
The Rev. Greggory L. Brown, pastor of a small church in Oakland, Calif., says he was filled with excitement during Obama’s first first inauguration speech. This time around, though, his feelings are different. He said that’s because he’s yet to see much change in the black community since Obama took office. “The hope for Obama’s presidency was that there would be more help for places like Oakland and other urban areas that need support, safety and jobs,” Brown said. “He made people feel like anything is possible.” Brown went on to say that he believes Obama “wants to make a difference, but every time he tries, people put up a big rock wall.”