African-American Vote: Obama Is a 'Man Not a Savior'

African Americans now view Obama as a 'man not a savior.'

November 6, 2012, 4:16 PM

Nov. 7, 2012— -- African-Americans arrived at the polls today in large numbers to support Barack Obama -- but on Election Day 2012, it's less about the historic jubilation of 2008 than ensuring that job growth, health care and education reform keep on track. Voters responded and ABC News projected late Tuesday that President Obama would receive a second term.

In New York City's historic black neighborhood of Harlem, people poured into the streets to celebrate the victory. At the 48-year-old landmark Sylvia's, packed with more than 150 locals, tourists and TV crews from around the world, Sylvia's event planner Jermaine Hunt said, "The atmosphere is like a fight party."

But instead of fists, guest were whooping it up, cheering, dancing and embracing strangers in elation.

Lady Altouise, 39, screamed, danced and hugged this reporter as ABC declared Obama the winner.

"God is good," the African-American actor said. "I am so absolutely happy. Thank you Jesus."

The mother of 12-year-old honor student Tahuis Nagruda, she said Obama's reelection safeguards her daughter's future. "Now she is going to go so far."

But amid the celebration there was a sense of so much more to be done.

"Obama's stopped the hemorrhaging economy, but now, it's more about unfinished business," said the Rev. Jessie Jackson, referring to issues of poverty, trade and continuing to build a "new America" that is "brown, yellow, black and white."

Four years ago black leaders talked sentimentally about the crowning moment of the civil rights movement, having arrived in the "Promised Land" with the election of the first black president.

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Today, it's about jobs instead of the "old crusading," according to Jackson, Rainbow Push Coalition founder and director, who spoke to by phone today from Columbus, Ohio, where he is campaigning for Obama.

"There's definitely an up feeling," said Jackson, who ran an unsuccessful presidential campaign as an independent in 1988. "There were long lines in early voting. It's historic voting in big numbers since 2008."

If there was any disappointment with Obama, it wasn't apparent from the African-American turnout. ABC News projected that this year's turnout among African-American voter would equal that of 2008.

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Jackson said that black voters were largely reacting to "attempts" at voter suppression of minorities and students, who are likely Obama supporters.

"In fact, it's waking people up," he said. "They are also responding to [accusations] that Obama is not American, not Christian, not legitimate."

The African-American vote, which turned out in unprecedented numbers in 2008, was critical to an Obama victory.

According to ABC polling data, a quarter of the likely voters are nonwhite and they prefer Obama by 76-20 percent. That number rises dramatically to 96-3 for likely black voters.

Today, as the economy struggles to get back on its feet, practicality has trumped pure racial pride.

On Election Day in 2008, Jackson and other leaders spoke in lofty terms about Obama's resounding defeat of Sen. John McCain.

"For blacks who voted for Obama this is reconciliation, for whites, it is redemption," said Jackson. "If Obama can become president, there is nothing else that we cannot be."

That was before the economy collapsed and the bailout of the banks and the auto industry.

In October 2008, just weeks before Obama was elected on his platform of "hope and change," 10 million Americans -- or 6.8 percent -- were unemployed.

Fast forward to October 2012 and even though the labor market has improved from its low point, 12.3 million -- or 7.9 percent -- are jobless, according to the government statistics.

Americans widely acknowledge that Obama rose to power on the shoulders of others in the civil rights movement and his election in 2008 became a symbol of that struggle.

"Change takes time, and to come to this place in time is a sign," Martin Luther King's sister, Christine King Farris, told in 2008.

"This takes me back to my brother's last speech in Memphis," the now 85-year-old college professor said on Election Day that year.

"He said, 'I may not get there with you,' but we -- not some Americans, but all Americans - will get to the Promised Land. We are accepted as full-fledged citizens of this country."

African Americans Critical of Obama's Aloofness

African-Americans have never abandoned Obama, but many have been critical of the way he has pandered to other constituencies. Some have said he has ignored his roots and failed to publicly identify with the African-American community.

"Barack Obama is not a Martin Luther King Jr. -- people recognize that," argued the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, who has led the historic Abyssinian Church in Harlem for 40 years. "There is a greater sense of reality. He is a man not a savior."

"Now, we are voting not so much about these kinds of things but that fact that we need jobs created," he said. "People are a little angry because we still recognize what conditions the country is in."

But African-Americans largely credit Obama with creating the Affordable Health Care Act, supporting the failing auto industry and jump-starting the ailing economy, according to Butts.

"There is still an enormous amount of pride," said Butts. "People recognize him as the first African American president, but he's got certain constituency groups pulling on him."

Supportive of Wall Street, yet still "putting their feet to the fire," Butts said Obama had accomplished a "tricky dance."

"He's in a unique position," said Butts. "It's just complicated and I give the president credit for managing to walk a complicated path with great dignity and integrity and I think the black community sees that."

Butts reported a "flurry of activity" in Harlem today at the polls. "In the street, people are excited--people don't like the attacks on the president. They love him and think he has done quite a good job."

"People should not underestimate the African-American community," he said.

Most educated African-Americans realize that Obama is not just a black man's president, answering to "only a handful," but the leader of the free world, he said.

"We've got a good man in office," said Butts. "He's smart and he's demonstrated know-how. There are problems, but I see an upward trajectory, not change now. We are out of Iraq, we are coming out of Afghanistan ... Barack Obama has done all the heavy lifting."

Top on Obama's agenda for the next four years should be three things, according to Butts: job creation; education reform, particularly in support of the public schools; and a foreign policy that pays attention to Africa.

At the same time, African-Americans want dollars focused in America after disasters like hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

He predicts African-Americans will help boost the razor-close numbers to give President Obama four more years. "We're not going to let someone like Romney come in and while things get better, claim all the credit."

"I think Obama is going to win," said Butts. "And that is the audacity of hope."


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