Win Historic, But Immediate Racial Change Not Certainty
November 20, 2008 – Ahead of the Nov. 4 presidential election, history professor Maurice Jackson made a prediction.
“If Barack Obama won the election, I was going to go into a room and cry like a baby,” he said.
When the results on Election Day declared Obama the winner, Jackson’s wife simply turned to him and handed him a box of tissues.
Growing up in the South and subjected to Jim Crow laws, Jackson had serious doubts that a black man would be president in his lifetime. So, watching Obama win the presidency was “a deeply personal moment for me,” Jackson reflected.
Fortuitously, the election dovetails with Jackson’s scholarly pursuits. The professor, who writes extensively on race, antislavery movements and African-American history and culture, said he was unsure about an Obama victory for several reasons.
He pointed to the “Bradley effect,” or the idea that white voters will profess support for a black candidate, but change their minds once in the voting booth. These attitudes go far back in America, he added.
“My period of history is the 18th and 19th centuries,” Jackson said. “I’ve studied whites who wanted the end of slavery, but who did not believe blacks were entitled to full equality.”
Presidents, even those esteemed now, also have shown this tendency, Jackson explained. President Lincoln said if he could save the nation without freeing slaves, he would do so. President Jefferson refused to free his slaves and President Franklin Roosevelt would not sign anti-lynching laws.
The professor pointed to such moments in history with his classes in the run up to the election, helping his students to connect the past and present.
For Jackson, the 2008 election represents a degree of progress, but doesn’t mean that racism suddenly is exorcised.
“The younger generation is much more color-conscious, but the only way we can truly become color-blind is to see African-Americans truly equal in birth and in prosperity,” he said. “It will take more than this election alone to get rid of racial discrimination.”