November 4, 2008: A Date Defined by 96% Unity!
It was a Good Day!
Okeyo Ajamu Jumal
All Rights Reserved
It was happening, really happening! For what seemed like an eternity of anxiety, tempered with a steadfast confidence, the election outcome on the night of November 4, 2008, thundered forth like an emotional storm, drenching me in tears of the most wonderful kind.
Let me back-up. It was 7PM PST and CNN had just projected Barack Obama the winner in Ohio, pushing his electoral vote total to 207 of the 270 needed to be elected president. The polls in California (55 electoral votes are certainty for Obama) closed polls at 8PM, which meant that at only a few minutes past 8PM, Barack Obama would be declared President-Elect of the United States.
This also meant that I had less then an hour to get from in front of the TV and drive 56 miles to Ladrea Center’s Magic’s T.G.I.F./Starbucks (near LAX), if I wanted to get caught-up in the insane pandemonium most assuredly to erupt at the strike of eight!
Now parked, I was racing (okay, walking kinda fast) pass the KJLH mobile DJ’s and into T.G.I.F.’s just in time to see the TV screen flash, CNN BREAKING NEWS!! BARACK OBAMA…Pandemonium indeed! Euphoria descended from the clear, star splashed sky like loving mist.
I was standing, transfixed on the parking lot that was exploding with leaps and joyful screams, I crossed over to Starbucks looking for one person in particular, “Shon” Shonathan Lindsey. Shon was right where I knew he would be, playing chess at the tables outside the coffee shop. Chess players have something very much in common with the Vegas gambler. It’s a known fact in Las Vegas that when an earthquake struck or a hotel caught fire, serious gamblers never move from the table, “deal the cards” was the response. Likewise the chess player, the world is shutout; their entire universe consists of 64 squares, 32 pieces and a game clock set at five minutes each per player.
When Shon spotted me in the crowd, he gave up his winners seat and came over with a big time greeting and laugh, “Obama! I told you, didn’t I? I told you he was gonna win! You were all concerned about that ‘Bradley effect’”. We laughed and talked politics until Obama had finished his acceptance speech. Afterward I hurried off to my next stop, Leimert Park.
Specter of the Bradley Effect
On the short drive, I found myself reminiscing about the Bradley thing, a topic that had been part of Shon and my conversations for months.
The Bradley Effect: No, not the 1982 gubernatorial race in California between Tom Bradley and George Deukmejian.
No, the Bradley Effect that haunts me until forever was the 1969 race for mayor of Los Angeles between Bradley and the incumbent mayor, Sam Yorty. In the April primary, Bradley won 42% of the vote to Yorty’s 26%, forcing a run-off because no one had 50%.
Yorty was unapologetic about running a race-based campaign; his billboards portrayed Bradley as a frightening Black man representing Black Power. So to save the city from such peril he railed, whites residents had an “obligation” to cast ballots for Sam Yorty. But in spite of the Yorty’s play on race in a city with a huge white majority, Bradley still held a substantial lead.
In a far more segregated 1969 Los Angeles, white Westside voters were canvassed before they entered the polling place and the large majority said they were voting for Bradley. The exit pollsters canvassed the same precincts and by a wide margin, they claimed to have cast their vote for Bradley. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnDjQ1QbWho
By the time polls closed that May 27, 1969, the victory celebrations in Black L.A. communities were jammin’, the hated Yorty and his lies were history. Bradley had been declared the winner by several radio stations. Long into the night it seemed Bradley was most assuredly the winner. But by 9AM the next morning, with 99% on the votes counted, the sobering reality was apparent, Yorty had won, 51% to 48% for Bradley.
Amongst Blacks, the defeat was palpable. The pain was a deep gnawing inside the gut. Tears of anger were mixed with tears of misery and a sense of betrayal. At the Texaco building on Wilshire Blvd where a hand full of us were employed at the time, whites and Blacks walked passed each other in total silence. It was literally sickening; one Black employee was so upset she vomited in the hallway. It’s a memory that bores deep into the bones because so many whites at the time had voiced support for Bradley, “Go Bradley”. There had been plenty of support and bright smiles offered by office co-workers before the election; but when it was time to pull the lever, what was said in public was one thing, and what they did in the privacy of the voting booth was another.
True, Bradley won the 1973 rematch against Yorty and was elected mayor of Los Angeles five times.
But the fear that stalked my thoughts throughout the 2008 election campaign was the possibility of the 1969 scenario playing out again.
Making Fears Disappear
Now, nearly forty years later, on Super Tuesday, February 4, 2008, I found myself at Magic’s Starbucks sitting across the chessboard from thirty-something Shon, not playing chess this time, but talking politics. Shon was one of the early supporters of Barack Obama, back when Hillary Clinton still held a slight led over Obama amongst Black women. When I met Shon at a jazz concert back in July of 2007, long before the Iowa caucuses and folks like me jumping on the bandwagon, he was wearing an Obama button; and on this Super Tuesday night, he was very vocal with his unwavering optimism. So being my natural instigating self, I asked him if he’d ever heard of the Bradley Effect?
“The Bradley effect? You mean when Tom Bradley ran for governor in 1982?”
“No.” I said, and I went on to explain the mayor’s race in 1969. Shon listened intently before commenting,
“All over the internet they say the Bradley effect thing is a myth. And even so, that was forty years ago!” He comically conveyed with body language and gestures that he wasn’t even born in 1969.
He continued, “This is a new generation. The fact that Obama is a serious candidate shows how far we’ve come.”
“Yes”, I responded, “But the fact that a Fox News channel exists shows how little progress has been made.”
“I hear what you’re saying, I understand why you old schoolers have a harder time trusting the polls, you saw some hard times. But still, you got to admit that a lot has changed since back then?”
Had it? Had things really changed? If Shon only knew how I so wanted to grasp tight to his optimism on change, but my lingering doubts were grounded, not in myth, but the reality of 1969.
Over the coming months we’d discuss the issues; the controversy over Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s comments appeared got big air time, “God damm America!” but Obama’s brilliant speech on race relations in America made them quickly disappear. Hillary conceding defeat had us talking late into the evening and the historic nomination of Barack Obama at the Democratic Convention had left me succumbing to Shon’s optimism. For the first time; buoyed by seeing massive Obama crowds from Berlin to Denver, by my trip to the ASALH history convention in the civil rights battleground city of Birmingham Alabama and listening to Obama’s book on auto, Dreams from My Father, I now believed it could happen. I believed that enough, if not a majority of white Americans, who accounted for 74% of the total electorate, would actually cast their vote for an African American, and based on content of character, elect him President of the United States.
Tenuous laid the crown of my unwavering optimism. I couldn’t shake the specter 1969, like some reoccurring nightmare, I feared, not just a city this time, but the hope of a of people crushed to dust under the weigh of disingenuous voices of support.
As Election Day drew near, the tension building within seemed unbearable. When would the Republicans spring their October surprise, when would they roll out a Willie Horton or some other Yorty type dirty trick. I finally decided for preservation of my sanity, to just turn-off all media and go campout in the woods until it was over, somewhere so remote that cell phones and satellites couldn’t find me. I lied to myself! I was a political junkie, I wasn’t going anywhere, I was addicted!
On Election Day, I was bright and early at the polling place and voting in a presidential election for the first time! I would have voted for Kennedy but I was a high school senior, not yet old enough. After my radicalization in the ‘60’s, all presidential candidates, Democrat or Republican, seemed clones of each other, so I became a conscientious abstainer. But Obama had me standing in light drizzle, not just because he was Black, but because he is an exceptionally brilliant and ethical individual, an anomaly for politicians, attributes that were easily worthy of me standing in a driving rainstorm or flood waters if necessary to exercise my vote.
I told myself I wouldn’t turn on the T.V. until the polls closed in California. Yeah, right!? I found myself mesmerized in front of the T.V. from the first poll closing on the east coast. It was happening, really happening…Ohio had been projected…
After a three-mile drive From Magic’s Starbuck’s, I arrived at the one-acre Leimert Park in the middle of celebratory madness. The huge crowds had surged into the middle of Crenshaw Blvd. Motorcycle cops assigned to keep the street open were being swarmed by the chaotic crowd. Unbelievable as it sounds, L.A. police were being mobbed by young ladies taking cell-phone photos of each other hugging the cops. Champaign was being sprayed randomly in the air, multi-rhythm congo drumming bounced loudly throughout and spontaneous dance broke out everywhere. It was total madness, happy madness!
What was most striking was the youth of the crowd. And not the bling, gangta rap, sagging pants image of lore—no—these young people were living larger then all that! These young people were buying into the political process and the dawn of a brighter day! Celebrating in the streets on this night were the future mayors, governors, senators, gadflies, political junkies, community organizers, community activists and yes, presidents.
So, answering the question often asked by older generations when evaluating today’s youth —with not so subtle, rhetorical contempt—, “Where will the next leaders, the Dr. King’s the Malcolm’s come from?” The emphatic answer on this November night, cascading down with a powerful unspoken resonance,
“The next leaders, the Dr. King’s and Malcolm’s are us!”
“Hello young man.” It took a few seconds before I realized that I was the “young” man being addressed. The older couple walking smartly in my direction were indeed my seniors, perhaps in their eighties. The man gave me a firm hand shake while the lady, his wife I presumed, her cheeks wet with tears, gave me a smile so bright and full of happiness that it seemed to light-up the entire corner where we stood.
“Never thought I’d live to see this day, never in a million years”, the man pronounced in a proud voice.
“I’am Lucky and this is my wife Lois Betty, we’ve been married sixty-four wonderful years.”
“I’m Jumal, Okeyo Jumal,” I respectfully responded.
The three of us just stood for a few moments admiring the jubilant scene, before Lucky began speaking,
“Isn’t this a sight to behold? I haven’t seen so many happy Negro, I mean Black folks in the streets since the Joe Lewis Max Schmeling Fight back in 1938. You probably don’t remember that young fella, I figure that was before your time. When Lewis knocked out Schmeling in the first round, Negro’s ran out into the streets from everywhere! Yes sir, it was a sight for sore eyes. At the time, they say that was the biggest celebration since Freedom’s Eve, you know, Watch Night in 1862 when Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.”
Lois Betty began chuckling while tugging on Lucky’s arm, then commenting, “Now Honey, you weren’t around for that!”
Lucky laughed before continuing, “I’m just making the point that tonight is special, this celebration has to be the biggest one yet!”
As we said our good-byes and faded apart, Lucky and Lois Betty began attracting a crowd like they were show business celebrities or rock stars, with the young folks finding different ways to ask the same question, “Did you ever think you’d see this in your life time, a Black man elected…”
What Bradley Effect?
I sat in the car a few minutes before turning the key and heading home. Just thinking. If there had been a Bradley effect, it was inconsequential as to effecting the elections out come. True, McCain won the white vote (74% of the electorate), 55% to 43% for Obama; (more then any other Democratic candidate in decades), about 2% less than pre-election polls had projected. The Hispanic vote (9% of the electorate) went big for Obama, 67% to 31% for McCain. But it was the African American vote, with the highest voter turnout in history and making up 14% of the electorate, that gave Obama 96% of its vote that proved deceive! Never before had an identified demographic group gone for one candidate by such an overwhelming margin! 96%!
All throughout the civil rights and Black power movements of the 1960’s and ‘70’s, there were siren calls for unity, Umoja. However, no cause or movement in the Black community, regardless to how passionate the persuasion, ever gained over 84% of acceptance. But on this November 4thh day in 2008, for a thin sliver of time; all economic, religious, social and cultural divisions were laid aside; and in a resounding show of unity, 96% of African Americans spoke and acted as one.
Congratulations to President-Elect Barack Obama and thanks for the ride!