By: CHRISTI PARSONS
DETROIT – Dovie Goodwin feels something stirring in the black community, feels it more strongly than at any other time in her 99 years of life. It was clear when she got together with friends and family here the other day, as they gathered for the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“I’ve been here just about every year since 1955,” Goodwin said. “And I know.” Her fondest hope is to be around in 2008, the year of her own centennial, to see something she says would be historic: African-Americans fully exercising the voting franchise their forebears fought so hard to win.
Other elders of the black community are talking about the same thing, this idea that the black community has an unprecedented opportunity to influence the next presidential election. There is the obvious factor, which is the candidacy of the most viable black presidential contender ever. But there are other influences, as well: White candidates who are making a serious play for black votes, a revised primary calendar that gives new weight to heavily black regions of the country and a recent Supreme Court decision that could re-mobilize the black community against segregation.
The conversations are part logic and part conjecture, posing questions not yet enlightened by public opinion polls and other statistics. But for veterans of the civil rights movement – for people who lived in the Jim Crow South, who have broken color barriers one by one – this is not a purely intellectual exercise.
“The feeling right now is that this is it, that it’s now or never,” said Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP. “This coming election is one where we not only can make a difference, we must. So much is at stake.” For one thing, he said, black leaders are concerned about recent high court decisions, including one that limits the ability of administrators to consider race when assigning children to public schools. “I do think there’s a feeling of possibility,” said Bond, who was a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee while at Morehouse College in 1960 and later was active in voter registration campaigns throughout the South.
Another factor, Bond and others say, is the candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who hopes to become the first black president. Obama is inspirational even for people who may not be planning to vote for him, said Alvin Poussaint, a physician and Harvard University professor. In the 1960s, Poussaint worked to provide medical care for civil rights workers and to desegregate Southern health facilities. “Any time you have a candidate up there raising money like Obama, and the fact that he has black ancestry, that makes black people feel proud,” Poussaint said.