History happened last night. Or as Sen. Barack Obama described it, it was an eventful evening as he became the first African American to win the Democratic nomination for president. A year and a half ago, Obama’s journey this far with nothing but a notion. Hillary Clinton had the name recognition, a leg up in the money chase and her hand on the party’s political machinery.
Back then, I was soberly skeptical while secretly hoping the improbable would become the reality. Obama is now five months away from being the winner who takes all.
Still, yesterday was good. Let’s hope that tomorrow will be even better.
Here’s a column I wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times a year and a half ago, right before Obama officially announced his candidacy for the party nomination.
Can Obama prove me wrong again?
January 21, 2007
BY MONROE ANDERSON
Not long after Barack Obama lost his bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, I ran into him at a downtown restaurant. I stopped at his table for a quick hello before joining my lunch date. Before I could nod goodbye, Obama told me that he was going to run for the U.S. Senate. I was taken aback. ''From a state senator to a U.S. senator? That's too big a leap,'' I warned.
''It doesn't matter. It's all the same,'' Obama said, summarizing in the shorthand exchange of a chance restaurant encounter that either you're qualified and capable or you're not. Remembering that he'd expressed an interest in running for mayor during another lunch meeting years before, I think I shook my head in disbelief. Time, obviously, has proved Obama right and me wrong.
The short period it took him to go from a relatively unknown Illinois state senator to a relatively unknown political force with rock-star stature could have happened only in these modern times, where the currents of cable network news and the World Wide Web ebb and flow 24/7. In less than three weeks, we'll see if it's his time again as he launches his bid to become the next president of the United States. When Obama announces, he'll make history as the first black candidate whose presidential campaign goes well beyond symbolic protest or civil rights activism. As he announces, the time and place cannot be ignored: He'll do it in the midst of Black History Month, from Springfield, the center of the Land of Lincoln.
And this season we're in now may never be the same.
Almost as soon as the nation's holiday season ends, the black history season begins, starting with the Jan. 15 national holiday celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King's legacy of freedom and equality in modern American life. With the slain civil rights leader's ''I Have a Dream'' speech as its coda, the black history season lasts six weeks -- from King's birthday until the end of February. While that window of opportunity is open, African Americans of some note -- or those who have something to say -- become the perennial flavors of the month. It's a heyday. The chosen are sought out for speechmaking and interviews on network television. For those six weeks, the trials, tribulations and triumphs of great American blacks become our nation's wallpaper: always there but not always noticed. During the season, from morning to night, day in and day out, there are Black History Month exhibitions, concerts, programs, performances, galas and fund-raisers. The cable movie channels spotlight black film directors and black movies. Sponsored public service announcements are featured on network television. Public radio and television broadcast special features. Public school children are taught the heroism of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and George Washington Carver.
Then it's all over. We have to wait until next year.
Shoehorning centuries of conflict and contributions into six short weeks once a year always struck me as a peculiar practice. As slaves and as freedmen, from Reconstruction to Jim Crow to the civil rights movement and now, African Americans are tightly woven into all aspects of the American fabric. Our heritage is the back story in all American history and often a main plot.
To be sure, Obama won't be running on the African-American platform but, seek it or not, he'll be the African-American presidential candidate. That's fine with me. Every time this brilliant, compassionate man speaks to American citizens will be at once, a lesson in current events now and a history lesson for generations to come. And should he win, believe it or not, black history will become America's history 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days of the year. So I, like millions of other Americans of all races, creeds and national origins, would like to see him become the Jackie Robinson of major league politics in this nation.
Only time will tell if, exactly two years from yesterday, Obama will be front and center at the swearing-in ceremony on Pennsylvania Avenue. I honestly doubt it, but I sincerely hope the Illinois senator will prove me wrong again.