|Before Barack Obama, there was Crispus Attucks, Frederick Douglass, the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, Mary McLeod Bethune, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and a host of other heroes and sheroes of the African-American struggle for freedom and human dignity, fighting to make America and American Democracy real for all of its citizens. Like Attucks, people of African descent were there at the founding of the nation. And since Attucks, millions have fought, bled and died to help define, defend and protect the ideals of freedom, justice and equality embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. African Americans and American Politics is a brief survey of that quest over the last 200+ years.|
Prior to 1867, the overwhelming majority of African Americans were not permitted to participate in the American democratic process. They could neither vote nor hold office nor serve on juries. But their presence and struggles helped define the nation and determine its course of development. For a brief period after the Civil War, amendments to the Constitution making blacks citizens and granting them the right to vote offered them their first significant opportunity to be part of the governance of this country. Thousands voted and hundreds were elected to local, state and national office. But by the 1880s, as Reconstruction had come to an end, the gains of the 1860s and 1870s were largely lost. Not until the mid-1960s could formerly disenfranchised African Americans in the South vote, and only in the 1970s would significant numbers of black men and women be elected to public office.
Beginning in the 1970s, more and more people of African descent—women as well as men—set their sights on the presidency of the United States. Chisholm and Gregory, Jackson and Braun, Sharpton and Keyes all campaigned for the nomination of their respective parties.
Barack Obama, who will become the 44th president of the United States on January 20, 2009, stands on the shoulders of all those African Americans who struggled within the Democratic and Republican parties as well as outside of them to advance the cause of freedom, justice and human dignity for black people as well as all of humankind.
Exhibition Curator: Howard Dodson
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Web Site