Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the
* * *
The Living Blood
My Soul to Keep /
The Good House /
The Black Rose
Freedom in the Family /
* * * * *
History in the Making
Barack Obama's Speech at First AME Church of Los
By Tananarive Due
light of a few stunning developments on the political
stage involving Barack Obama, I'm posting an essay I
wrote for friends and family back in April 2007, after
Sen. Obama paid a visit to First AME Church in Los
I can't claim that
I predicted then that Barack Obama would later so
handily win the Iowa caucuses, and would be so likely
triumph in New Hampshire, too. I wasn't certain then
that he had a realistic chance at winning the Democratic
nomination, and the presidency beyond. The groundswell
around Obama is nothing that could have been predicted
But after church
that Sunday morning last spring, I understood that it
was POSSIBLE. For the first time, my eyes were wide open
about the Obama phenomenon. I wanted to share the
experience with everyone I knew, so I transcribed the
speech myself from the church's video. Transcribing the
speech took a long time away from projects on deadline,
but I considered it community service.
Once you go back to that First AME
service with me, maybe you'll understand too.
* * * * *
April 29, 2007—I'm
always glad when I make it to church on Sunday, but
never as glad as I am today.
I just heard Barack Obama give a speech at my church,
First AME in Los Angeles. The pastor is Dr. John J.
Hunter, and I have followed him since he was pastor of
First AME in Seattle. On many Sundays, I have felt awed
and renewed by my church, my choirs, and my pastor. But
today's service was something special, even for First
I didn't know that Obama would be there, but I knew it
was possible, since I had heard that he was in town.
Often, politicians who are in Los Angeles make a stop at
First AME, which has a membership of more than 20,000.
Political seasons always bring out the candidates.
My husband—Steven Barnes—and I had heard that Obama was
in town Saturday night, when we attended a party hosted
by a black producer here in Los Angeles. Two intelligent
black actresses we met there, both very familiar faces,
were rapturous after hearing Obama speak at a black
Hollywood event earlier. "I think it must be like what
people felt in the '60s when they saw Dr. King speak,"
one actress told me, earnestness burning in her eyes.
After seeing Barack Obama at my church the next morning,
now I understand why.
Don't get me wrong: I've always been impressed by Obama,
and I was even more impressed after listening to him
read The Audacity of Hope. (It's worth
getting the audio version to hear Obama read it
himself.) Like most people, my first introduction to
Barack Obama was when he addressed the 2004 Democratic
National Convention; the only bright spot in an
otherwise heartbreaking political year. He had me on my
I hadn't felt that way about a politician in a very long
time, and hadn't expected to again.
And when it comes to speeches, I have heard some of the
masters. As a child attending NAACP conventions each
summer with my parents and Johnita and Lydia, my
sisters, I treasured opportunities to hear addresses by
executive director Benjamin L. Hooks, a supreme orator.
One year, Senator Ted Kennedy created a joyous uproar in
the banquet hall when he ended his address with the last
lyrics from James Weldon Johnson's "Lift Ev'ry Voice and
Sing." At speeches like that, you get goosebumps. Your
eyes fill with tears. A good speech is an act of magic.
Dr. King's speeches helped electrify a nation, and the
Since both of my parents are civil rights activists and
writers, I grew up with their speeches, too. My father,
attorney John Due, recently addressed a funeral for
Miami civil rights activist Johnnie M. Parris Marsan;
and Dad quoted from a Barack Obama speech in Selma
calling for the rise of the post-civil rights
generation—which Obama called the "Joshua
generation"—who must complete the work of Moses, leading
their people to the Promised Land.
In 1960, my mother, Dr. Patricia Stephens Due, spent 49
days in jail for sitting-in at a Woolworth lunch counter
in Tallahassee, Florida, becoming part of the nation's
first "Jail-In." To this day, Mom wears dark glasses
because her eyes were injured when a police officer
threw teargas in her face. (We documented her
experiences in the book
Freedom in the Family: A
Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights.)
Through her powerful speeches, Mom motivated other
students to defy their parents and teachers to take part
in civil rights protests and register blacks to vote.
One fellow Florida A&M student who heard my mother
speak—and was inspired to demonstrate and brave
arrest—is present-day philanthropist Shirley Pooler
Kinsey, who sat at First AME Church of Los Angeles
forty-odd years later and heard a speech by Barack Obama.
Sometimes a speech presents its case so well that you
have no choice but to act. March. Vote. Contribute. The
speech compels you to do something.
That's the kind of speech I heard this morning. It's the
reason I want to share the experience. I wish everyone I
know and love had been there.
First, the church was packed. The sanctuary and balcony
were full, so a hundred or more of us took seating in
the basement, where we watched the speech on a
Pastor John first led us in prayer for Obama. All of us
held hands and prayed—although, frankly, many of us have
been praying for Obama since the day he announced his
candidacy and we feared we were about to lose another
dear son to violence.
When Obama took the stage, we heard the stir of
excitement as the sanctuary upstairs came to its feet.
The walls could not separate us. Downstairs, we stood
up, too. Obama began his speech by reflecting on the
15th anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which
were sparked by the acquittal of the LAPD officers who
beat Rodney King. (My pastor's later sermon was
entitled: "Can't We All Just Get Along?")
Obama cited a newspaper story about a pregnant woman who
was shot in the abdomen during the violence of the
riots—and doctors discovered that the bullet was inside
of her baby.
After an emergency delivery, a miracle: The baby was
fine. The bullet hadn't even hit a bone, lodged in the
baby's arm. Surgery removed the bullet. All that was
left, the doctor said, was a permanent scar.
"That baby represents the rising up of hope out of
darkness and despair," Obama said at my church Sunday.
"But I also like the doctor's point that there's always
going to be a scar there. That doesn't go away. You've
got to take the bullet out and you've got to stitch it
up, but there's always gonna' be a scar. When you think
about us in this country fifteen years later, not only
do we still have the scars from that riot—but in many
American cities, we haven't even taken the bullet out.
We still haven't stitched up the patient."
Applause swelled. So true, we all thought. Obama said
that he's often asked if he thinks the Hurricane Katrina
response was so slow because so many victims were black.
"Actually," Obama said, "I think the response was
color-blind in its incompetence. "But what I also said
was that the tragedy struck New Orleans well before the
hurricane hit. That the murder rate in New Orleans has
been one of the highest in the nation, with young men
dying far more frequently from gunshot wounds than they
did of anything else in New Orleans. That the schools
had failed in New Orleans long before the hurricane hit.
There was a reason why the plan to evacuate them was
ineffective, because the folks who were doing the
planning assumed they had cars. That they could fill
them up with gas.
That they could put
some Perrier in the back of their SUV and drive to a
hotel and check in with their credit card. And that
wasn't the reality of folks in the Ninth Ward in New
Orleans, any more than it's a reality in the South Side
of Chicago or South Central Los Angeles.
"There's been a
tragedy there for a long time. Yet, you think about the
response after Katrina, and it's similar to the response
in Los Angeles after the riots. In this country, we go
from shock to trance. There's nothing in-between.
"We wake up and we're surprised that there's poverty in
our midst, and that people are frustrated and angry.
There's recriminations as to what happened, and then
there are panels and meetings and commissions, then
reports. Then there's a little bit of money folks piece
together to send it into the community to make sure the
folks are quiet and go back to the status quo. But we
never take the bullet out of the arm and stitch up the
wound that has been made in this country."
Many people rose, applauding. "We don't need panels and
reports and commissions. We need some surgery on the
indifference to poverty in this country that has gone on
for too long. We know what needs to be done. We know
what it would mean to take the bullet out—the bullet of
slavery and Jim Crow. We know what it would take to take
that bullet out. . ." Then Obama stopped his speech.
"I've got to take a break, because
Stevie Wonder's in the house," Obama said.
Stevie Wonder had just walked into the church. The
audience laughed and applauded as Wonder was led to his
seat. "I'm sorry," Obama said, "but when Stevie's in the
house, I've got to stop preaching and say 'Thank you' to
Stevie Wonder. I'm sorry. I was on a roll, but . . .
[laughter] . . . but Stevie walked in—and I grew up on
Stevie. I love Stevie Wonder." Suddenly, the
presidential candidate had been transformed into a
10-year-old boy, grinning from ear to ear. Stevie
Wonder, Obama pointed out, performed a fund-raising
concert during his Senate campaign.
"My wife, that was the only thing I ever did that
impressed her," he said, and the congregation laughed.
"She didn't care, I was elected to the U.S. Senate, I'm
running for president. None of that impresses her. But
me getting Stevie Wonder to play a concert—that was
something there." More laughter and applause. Obama had
eased from sober indignation to folksy humor in the
blink of an eye, with a comic's timing, seeming genuine
all the while. Hardly missing a beat, Obama was back on
"The bullet of slavery and Jim Crow and indifference. We
know what it would require to remove that bullet, the
kind of surgery this country needs to perform. We know
that if we've got young people without hope, if we've
got more young men in prison than in our colleges and
universities, we've got our children having to go to the
emergency room for treatable illnesses like asthma, or
undiagnosed and can't get a pair of glasses so they can
learn in school because they don't have health care.
They've got mental health problems, nobody's paying
attention. We know what would need to be done. We know
"We know that if we put a dollar into early childhood
education that we get seven dollars back in reduced
dropout rates, reduced delinquency, reduced prison
rates, that our young people can go to college. We know
what it takes to improve our schools. We know that if
children are learning in dilapidated buildings, with
teachers that are underpaid, and textbooks that are
twenty years old, and curriculums that are uninspired
and don't reflect the experiences of our children, that
they will not learn. But if we put some money into
making sure our teachers are paid a decent wage and
treated like professionals, and engaged and given
flexibility, and if the textbooks and curriculum
reflects the experiences of our children and made
relevant, then our children can learn. There are models
of excellence in every urban community; we just don't
scale it up.
"And the reason we do is not because of the lack of
knowledge of how to do it, but because in the back of
our minds there's a part of us that still thinks that
actually, not every child should learn. Every child
doesn't need to learn. There's that bullet in our
"We know what it would take to provide health care for
all Americans. We spend two trillion dollars on health
care every year in this nation—fifty percent more than
any nation on Earth. And yet I read a report last week
that infant mortality among African-Americans in places
like Mississippi is going up. And we've got infant
mortality rates in some of our communities that are the
equivalent of what's going on in Haiti and Ecuador.
Sub-Saharan Africa. Here in the wealthiest nation on
"We know that if we put money into preventive care and
if we gave the chronically ill decent health care so
that they were getting their medications on a regular
basis, somebody's who's diabetic, if they were getting
regular medications, we wouldn't have to pay thirty
thousand dollars for a leg amputation." (Applause.)
"That would save us all money. We can provide universal
health care in this country by the end of the next
president's first term. We can provide it by the end of
my first term in office. There's no reason why we don't
do that. Everybody should have health care." The pianist
played flourishes while the audience gave him a standing
"We know what it would take to develop our communities
economically. Some of ya'll notice gas prices aren't too
good around here. It's worse here than Chicago. I was
with my driver here in L.A. He was explaining how he
still has a Durango, and I told him, 'You need to buy a
"He's driving fifty miles to his work every day. He
fills it up, $78 to fill up, and it takes three trips
before he has to fill up again. He's spending
five-hundred dollars a month on gas. I said, 'That's
right, and you know where we're sending it?
Eight-hundred million dollars a day to some of the most
hostile nations on earth. We're funding both sides of
the War on Terrorism because we don't have an energy
policy in this country.' "And in the bargain, we're
melting the polar ice caps and creating climate change
that is going to impact not just rich people, it's gonna'
affect poor people more than anybody. Two-hundred fifty
million people around the world, many of them in
Sub-Saharan Africa, may be affected by climate change.
But here's how we bring it back to right here in this
"You know, people think that thinking environmentally
somehow is contradictory to economic development. It
turns out that if we were serious about an energy policy
in this country, if we're serious about dealing with the
consequences of our dependence on oil, we could create
jobs all through our community. We've got whole
buildings here that if they were rehabilitated and
insulated and refitted so that they were conserving
energy, that everybody would save money. And you know
who would be doing that work? It would be all the young
men and young women out here who've got no employment.
They can be trained. We know what to do.
"But instead of increasing job training and developing
an energy policy and making sure economic development
exists all throughout our community, let's see what our
current president has done: He has cut forty percent of
federal dollars for Community Development Bloc Grants
and job training and community policing, and we have now
spent half a trillion dollars on a war that should have
never been authorized, and should have never been waged.
We could have invested that money in South Central Los
Angeles and the South Side of Chicago." By now, Obama
was nearly shouting.
"Our jobs and infrastructure and hospitals and
schools—why is it we can find the money in a second for
a war that doesn't make any sense, but we can't find the
money to take out the bullet of poverty in this country?
And stitch up our communities so every child has a
chance at a decent life?" (Applause.)
". . . I am confident in my ability to lead this
country. I wouldn't be running if I wasn't. I'm not
half-stepping in here. This isn't a symbolic race that
I'm running. I'm not trying just to get my name in the
papers. I get enough attention without running for
president. I'm running to win.
"But I will say this . . . I can't do it by myself. I
can't do it on my own. There are gonna' be times during
this campaign when I get weary. There'll be times when
I'll get tired. There'll be times when I make mistakes.
I haven't done this before. You know, we came out of the
debate this week in South Carolina. They had a poll
showing that folks in South Carolina thought I had won.
But we had some of the pundits saying, 'No, Obama seemed
a little bit stiff.' I said, 'Yeah, I'd say that was my
B game.'" Laughter and applause.
"But here's the thing: That's the first time I've ever
done it. Can you imagine what I'll be like by the time
I've done it the fifth time?"Raucous applause and
"God's not through with me yet. We're still working on
this thing. But I can't do it on my own. I can only do
it with you. We can only take the bullet out with you.
You know, I watch some of these shows, 'E.R.' and
'Grey's Anatomy' and all that. The doctors, they're
doing the operation, but you notice all these people
around 'em handing them the scalpel, telling them 'No,
doctor, the heartbeat's going down.' There's a team that
gets that bullet out of that child. That's what I need
here, is a team. I can't do it by myself. Change doesn't
happen in America from the top down—it happens from the
"Some of you know I was down in Selma, Alabama about a
month and a half ago, celebrating the 42nd anniversary
of the march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge. And it was
a powerful moment for me, being in Brown Chapel next to
John Lewis and thinking about what had happened back in
1965, when I had been four years old; where a group of
college students and maids janitors and Pullman porters
gathered together and decided they were going to march
for freedom. And how they had gone to that bridge and
seen the horses and the billy-clubs and the teargas, and
they started to cross anyway. And had been beaten within
an inch of their lives. And had staggered back to the
church, bloodied, feeling that perhaps change wouldn't
come. And how that recording of those events on Bloody
Sunday had galvanized a nation. And thousands had come
and descended on Selma, and marched with them in the
weeks that followed, and how the waters had parted, and
they had kept on marching over that bridge—not just to
the courthouse, but all the way to the White House,
until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed.
"And standing on that bridge next to those heroes—those
who were responsible for me now being in a position to
run for the presidency of the United States—standing on
the shoulders of those giants—I thought to myself how
even out of darkness, God finds a way to lead us
"And I came back from Selma to Washington, and some of
my colleagues patted me on the back and they said,
'Senator, you gave a wonderful speech at Brown, and that
was a wonderful celebration of African-American
history.' And I said, 'No, no, you don't understand:
That was a celebration of AMERICAN history.' Because at
every step of the way in this nation, when we have made
progress, it's because millions of voices have joined
together and decided that a change was going to come.
That's how the abolitionists organized to erase the
stain of slavery from the Declaration of Independence
and our Constitution. That's the way that women decided
to join together to get the right to vote, so they would
be equal partners with everybody in remaking America.
That's how workers joined together so that we'd have
overtime and the minimum wage, and all the other
benefits that we now take for granted. That's how the
civil rights movement occurred—because ordinary people
realized they could do extraordinary things.
"And so, First A.M.E., I want you to know that 15 years
after those riots, change is still going to happen
because of you. This campaign may be a vehicle for your
hopes and your dreams, but ultimately it's going to be
because of you. And I am absolutely confident that if
all of you make a decision that we are going to
transform this country—that we are going to usher in a
new America the way that newborn child was ushered
in—still having the scars, not forgetting where we came
from, not blanking out on what has happened, but
recognizing that we can remove that bullet and stitch up
that arm and move forward as one nation. If all of you
make that decision, then I am confident that not only
are we going to have health care for every American in
this country, not only is every child going to have a
decent education, not only are we going to end this
senseless war in Iraq—but you might just elect a new
president named Barack Obama."
The sanctuary roared with a standing ovation. The organ
played. Women screamed.
"Beloved," the pastor said, "the Spirit has hit Stevie
Wonder to sing a song." And so Steve Wonder came up to
the pulpit and sang. "We're gonna' win this victory . .
. yeah, yeah, yeah . . .We're gonna' win this victory .
. . yeah, yeah, yeah . . . We're gonna' win this victory
. . . yeah, yeah, yeah . . . . Barack Obama's gonna' be
the next President, say yeah, yeah, yeah. . . . We're
gonna' win this victory, yeah, yeah, yeah . . ." The
congregation joined him, singing Barack Obama's praises.
After his first song, Stevie Wonder brought greetings
from his church, West Angeles Church of God in Christ,
led by Bishop Charles E. Blake. (Also a very powerful
Then Stevie Wonder sang "Falling in Love with Jesus,"
and we remembered we were in church. Listening to
Wonder, Obama looked full of rapture. This morning at my
church, Barack Obama stood beside Stevie Wonder—with the
Men of FAME Choir dressed in African-styled vests behind
them. And above them was First AME's massive mural
depicting painful chapters in black history: Capture.
Slavery. And also the triumphs: Wagon trains. Black
newspaper boys and the rise of black media. The black
And I knew, with absolute certainty, that I was watching
history in the making. Now I understand that light I saw
glowing in the actress's eyes after seeing a speech by
Barack Obama. He has the gift of turning us into
believers—not believers in him exclusively, but
believers in ourselves and our own power. It is the
essence of a populist message. I understand Obama's poll
numbers. I understand his fund-raising bonanza. All
across America, a growing number of people of all races
believe that Barack Obama can be our next president. He
is transcending race, for now. Are we still half a
generation removed, or has the day our nation would
accept a candidate regardless of race already come, and
we just hadn't realized how close we were?
Today, I looked at my 3-year-old son and realized that,
yes, one day he could be the President of the United
States. As a black parent, that makes my generation
unique in American history. Today, it felt as real as a
man standing in my church.
Here's why Barack Obama could win the presidency in
2008: He has a message, but he's not selling
sound-bites. What he's mostly selling is his logic, his
way of thinking. He's selling his nuance. He is in a
unique position to see the world from multiple
positions, and he often comes across as the tallest
person in the room. He seems to know how we feel, no
matter who WE are. You find yourself wondering: "Why
hasn't anyone else put it that way? Understood it so
well? Articulated it with such simple eloquence?" And he
does it, so far, without a hint of artificiality. He is
the living, walking embodiment of the future the 1960s
activists bled to achieve.
We've canonized Al Gore now, but remember how his
candidacy bleached him? Remember how hard he had to work
not to say what he was really thinking? Remember how
much we wanted to love John Kerry—and we admire his
contributions to our national sanity both during the
Vietnam era and today—but we never truly felt stirred by
Barack Obama makes candidacy look easy. And he does it
with the eye of a psychologist who knows exactly what
our nation's psyche has been through. We have been
wounded, and Obama understands our need for healing. We
are ready to take the bullet out. And you start to
think, "Well...? Maybe he can do it..."
Maybe is just another word for hope. I do not know how
Barack Obama's life story will read. Today, I believed I
had just seen a speech from the nation's first black
president. But . . . maybe Obama will lose the Democratic
nomination or the general election. Maybe he will
stumble. But even if Obama doesn't win, he's young
enough that we know he isn't going anywhere.
One way or another, we are in the midst of history in
the making. It's not every day you go to church and feel
like you're witnessing a miracle.
* * * *
— pronounced tah-nah-nah-REEVE doo — has written seven
books ranging from supernatural thrillers to science
fiction to a civil rights memoir, making the American
Book Award-winning author among the nation’s most
versatile voices. Her latest book is
Colony: A Novel (2008).
The Living Blood (2001), which received a 2002
American Book Award, “should set the standard for
supernatural thrillers of the new millennium,” said
Publishers Weekly, which named both
The Living Blood and
My Soul to Keep (1997) among the best novels
of the year.
The Good House (2003) was nominated as Best
Novel by the International Horror Guild.
The Black Rose (2000), based on the life of
pioneer Madam C.J. Walker, was nominated for an NAACP
My Soul to Keep will soon be a major motion
picture at Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Casanegra: A Tennsyson Hardwick Novel is the
Essence Book Club pick for July: Actor Blair Underwood (Sex
and the City, etc.) teams up with accomplished
authors Steven Barnes and Due to produce a seamlessly
* * *
* * * * *
The New Jim Crow
Mass Incarceration in the Age of
By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the
rosy picture of race embodied in Barack
Obama's political success and Oprah
Winfrey's financial success, legal
scholar Alexander argues vigorously and
persuasively that [w]e have not ended
racial caste in America; we have merely
redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial
segregation has been replaced by mass
incarceration as a system of social
control (More African Americans are
under correctional control today... than
were enslaved in 1850). Alexander
reviews American racial history from the
colonies to the Clinton administration,
delineating its transformation into the
war on drugs. She offers an acute
analysis of the effect of this mass
incarceration upon former inmates who
will be discriminated against, legally,
for the rest of their lives, denied
employment, housing, education, and
public benefits. Most provocatively, she
reveals how both the move toward
colorblindness and affirmative action
may blur our vision of injustice: most
Americans know and don't know the truth
about mass incarceration—but her
carefully researched, deeply engaging,
and thoroughly readable book should
* * * *
Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a
collection of fourteen essays by scholars and
creative writers from Africa and the Americas.
Called one of two significant critical works on
Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late
1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of
Carter G. Woodson and
Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as
well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations
were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early
essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish
medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an
historical context for understanding 20th-century
creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone
writers, such as Cuban
Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist,
Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the
significance of Negritude in Latin America. This
collaborative text set the tone for later
conferences in which writers and scholars worked
together to promote, disseminate, and critique the
literature of Spanish-speaking people of African
descent. . . .
Cited by a
literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the
field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which
most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
* * * * *
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(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
posted 11 January 2008