Saturday, April 05, 2008

Dr. King's Legacy Lives On In Illinois Politics

Did you know that in the 1960s Dr. King took up residence on Chicago's South Side and faced resistance certainly from the Democratic machine of that era, but also from the black community. Of course some in the black community were in the Democratic machine. Anyway Dr. King faced someone he most like would have a hard time nailing down, Mayor Richard J. Daley.

As a person, especially some of his policies towards blacks, I'd have a problem with. Daley was a great politician because he handled this delicately and with success. Besides a southern rabble-rouser could shake up the calculus in Chicago and that most likely meant that Daley could lose the crucial black vote.

I forget exactly why Dr. King brought his movement to Chicago. It was probably housing or conditions in black neighborhoods. Still Daley didn't make any great concessions, Dr. King could chalk up his cause in Chicago as a loss. Well he probably didn't but it wasn't a victory and Daley could continue with his vision for Chicago.

Imagine what happened in Chicago after Dr. King left. Yeah there were riots when he was assassinated, especially on the West Side. My mother told stories of living in Englewood and having to walk around National Guard units and tanks. You can still see some of the after effects although 40 years out the changes might very well be slowly erased by gentrification in certain areas.

In the 1980s blacks were tired of the Democratic machine and were willing to put in place a black mayor and built a coalition to be able to do that. Unfortunately all good things come to an end and Mayor Washington died. Still there are other things to consider looking at this CBS2 story about Dr. King's mark on Illinois politics...
When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., brought the civil rights crusade to Chicago in the 1960s, he had little to show for it by the time he left town.

CBS 2 Political Editor Mike Flannery takes a look at how the local landscape has changed since King's assassination exactly 40 years ago Friday.

Mobs in then-all-white neighborhoods greeted King and other "open housing" marchers with broken bottles and brickbats.

"I've never seen hatred in Mississippi or Alabama like what I've seen today in Chicago," King had said at the time.

While segregation and racial polarization remain issues here, Chicago is changing, and that's being reflected in local politics.

When the director of a Washington, D.C. -based think tank said Illinois had the best record in America for electing African-Americans to statewide office, he also had in mind those who preceded Sen. Barack Obama – Sen. Carol Moseley Braun; Secretary of State Jesse White; and former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burrus, a four-time winner statewide; not to mention State Sen. President Emil Jones and State Supreme Court Justice Charles Freeman, a former chief justice.

"I think he would not be surprised, because Dr. King had a level of optimism," said U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis.

One result of African-American political victories here, Davis said, is that black politicians from across the country are studying Illinois to see how they might appeal to white and Hispanic voters.
Let's look at Barack Obama. He appeals to mostly younger voters and a rainbow of people. His main supporters aren't blacks and I don't hear him making a case of "America hasn't lived up to its responsibilities to black people". Having a sense of righteousness and and sticking it to the man will get you media play but it won't win in office if you've effectively polarize the electorate.

Even in Chicago you can't do that. If the black community turned out solidly like 90% of black voters and if they even constituted a small majority in the city one could probably get away with it. However in a city that is almost divided in thirds between major racial or ethnic groups (that being white, black, or hispanic) a black candidate for mayor are likely to need a lot more than black votes. Even Daley needs a lot more than these white ethnics who are likely to be the ones who didn't want to see a black mayor in 1983. Obama and these other Illinois politicians mentioned don't need to just rely on one set of votes, black votes, to advance beyond say the US Congress, the state legislature, or even Alderman.

Almost reminds me of this story I blogged about over at Illinoize.

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