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African-American Voters Say They Support Democratic Presidential Nominee Barack Obama


[Revised 10-13-08]

Several U.S. opinion polls suggest Americans are divided by race going into the November election. Polls have shown black voters overwhelmingly support Democratic Senator Barack Obama over his rival, Republican Senator John McCain. In this third in a five part feature series, VOA examines voters across the country to ask whether America is ready for a black president. Voice of America’s Chris Simkins reports on the feelings of some African-American voters.

At the convention of (Alpha Kappa Alpha) the oldest black sorority in the country, these women, like other African-Americans, are among Barack Obama's most fervent supporters. Candice Walker from Chicago says Obama's run for the White House is a milestone. "We are hoping that people look at the credentials and say, well, he can make a change. He has made a change already by the fact that he is running and so many people have voted for him of every ethnic color."

In March, Obama spoke about race. He said blacks should not feel burdened by lingering racism, "Race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. For the African-American community that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past."

African-Americans, like Warren Boyd of Washington, DC, hope voters are open to electing an African-American president, "I certainly would hope we are ready to elect a black president. We have elected black mayors, black governors."

Eleanor Holmes Norton was first elected to Congress 17 years ago from the District of Columbia, the nation's capital. She says the country has come a long way, "I think the fact that this is a country that had slavery and discrimination should not discount the fact that time moves on. One of the reasons this nominee, Barack Obama, has done so well is that he has drawn into the process millions of young people who didn't pay it any attention before him."

Observers say Obama has not talked excessively about race during the campaign out of concern that white voters might overwhelmingly view him as a black candidate. He has highlighted his origins as the son of a white American mother and a Kenyan father.

Vesla Weaver is a political science professor at the University of Virginia. She says Obama has done a good job diluting the issue of race, "He really has distanced himself from the kind of stereotype of most black candidates but without being disingenuous, without kind of selling out (black voters) his base."

Tony Matthews from Maryland believes Obama may be able to transcend race, "I think if an individual looks at who Obama is, his intelligence, his ability to run this country, look at all those factors and take the skin color out of it, then I think a white America could come to the right conclusion, well yeah I think he could be a good leader. How many whites will do that ? I do not know."

A survey indicates that Obama's candidacy has generated great enthusiasm among black voters. But they do not see it as proof that race relations are getting better.

Dana Smith, from Dallas (Texas) agrees. She says, if elected, Obama could help improve relations between whites and blacks, "Right now we are not where we should be. We are far from where we need to be and I think he (Obama) could help to mend those fences."

Public opinion polls indicate most African-Americans are throwing their support behind Barack Obama. Many who spoke to VOA said they believe race will be a factor in the election. They hope it won't be the determining factor.


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