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This Century’s Captivating Couple
There’s only one other time in American history when a Black man and a White woman simultaneously entranced a nation. Race, gender, and politics were the triple trumpet that summoned the attention of the country. That was over a century and a half ago. But this century’s Capitol Hill hopefuls have captured not only the notice of the American public, but the entire world’s! Be that as it may, still, over 150 years before Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Hussein Obama took center stage, another White woman and Black man from the 19th century made history. The similarities are eerie; and some seem to think that the parallels portend a victory for Hillary.
Like 21st-century Clinton and Obama, the 19th-century couple was contemporaries. (Interestingly, both White women are seniors to their Black male contemporaries.) And just like Hillary and Hussein, they were also on the same side of major political issues of their day. While they were amidst other notable contemporaries from the same genre like Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Scarlet Letter, 1850), Herman Melville (Moby Dick, 1851), Henry David Thoreau (Walden, 1854), poet Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass, 1855), the very prolific private poetess Emily Dickinson and others; Clinton and Obama are among political headline grabbers like McCain, Romney, Edwards, Huckabee, and others in their run for the White House.
And just who is this mystery couple from yesteryear? Well, they are none other than Harriet Beecher Stowe and Frederick Douglass. You’ll recall that both were vehemently opposed to slavery, and that as abolitionists each wrote a book that is till this day part and parcel of outstanding American classics. Douglass wrote Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845), which was an earthshaking bestselling autobiography detailing his brutal life as a slave. Uncharacteristic for a White woman of the time, Stowe authored the runaway best seller Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (1854) When compared to Douglass’s book Stowe’s work made more of an impact on American society. In fact, in 1863, as the Civil War raged, Abraham Lincoln remarked to Harriet when introduced to him: “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!”
Sandwiched between Harriet’s 19th century and Hillary’s 21st century is “Super” Sally’s 20th century. Who’s “Super” Sally? Though not attracting as much attention, there was a 20th-century odd couple where the White woman trumped the Black man in accomplishing a certain historic feat. In August 1983 Guy Bluford was the first African American catapulted into the Blackness of Space.
But, not to be outdone, Sally Ride, a Valley girl from Encino, was launched into the Celestial Void that same year (1983), but in June, a couple of months ahead of Bluford. Intriguingly, though he was the first African American in space, Bluford wasn’t the first Black man in space. That distinction belongs to Col. Arnaldo Tamayo-Mendez, a Black Cuban who claimed the Outer Limits in 1980.
A Black triumph over the White race in the race for space? Hardly. Some twenty years to the month before America’s first lady was launched into space, Valentina Tereshkova, a Soviet cosmonaut, became the first woman ever to ascend the Abyss. She did it in 1963, the same year President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. No, Black men would not be the first to hang with the Big Bang. They would sit in the back of the Shuttle as the White man and White woman occupied the driver’s seat. Is this Obama’s fate as he battles to breach Oblivion?
Given this history, should it be surprising, then, that Hillary Clinton would offer him to shadow her as VP in the back seat even though she’s trailing Obama? (Cuba’s Fidel Castro, while not suggesting who’d be VP, said the duo would be an “unbeatable” pair. Bill Clinton, on the other hand, sees Obama as VP.) “With all due respect,” says Obama, who took umbrage at the thought, “I won twice as many states as Senator Clinton [including Mississippi]. I’ve won more of the popular vote than Senator Clinton. I have more delegates than Senator Clinton. So, I don’t know how somebody who’s in second place is offering vice presidency to the person who’s in first place.”
He obviously hasn’t written a book in the 19th century nor has ridden the Space Shuttle in the 20th century. Nevertheless, even minus these accomplishments he continues: “Senator Clinton is fighting hard. She’s tenacious. I respect her for that. She is working hard to win the nomination. But I want everybody to be absolutely clear. I’m not running for vice president. I’m running for President of the United States of America.”
In 1870 the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution gave Black men the nominal right to vote. But because of literacy tests, poll taxes, gerrymandering, and other prohibitive barriers in the Deep South, they were effectively barred from doing so until President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. White women who won their right to vote with passage of the 19th Amendment on August 26, 1920, never faced such prohibitive measures. And then “Congress in 1982 amended the Voting Rights Act,” says one source. Why? Well, “to protect the voting rights of protected racial minorities in redistricting. Within those laws, states have great leeway to draw districts, which often leads to gerrymandering.” Congress has never found it necessary to take such action in behalf of White women voters.
The sum of it all was that in practice, the White woman could vote when the Black man couldn’t. And when he was able to exercise his vote in 2000, Florida threw it out. Such has never happened to the White woman. Also, there is the Electoral College and the Democratic Party’s superdelegates poised to negate the popular vote (Black and White) if deemed appropriate. This explains what one anonymous political commentator meant when he wrote inside a courthouse’s men’s room stall: “If voting would change anything, it would be illegal.” To some, the entire process is tragically laughable.
Nevertheless, for the first time in American history a Black man and a White woman appear to have an equal chance to gain his or her party’s nomination for President of the United States, which fact alone is one aspect that’s responsible for this race dominating the political landscape. The entire situation makes for strange bedfellows. Republicans who once hated each other are galvanizing against Obama. The Ku Klux Klan has endorsed him. The Republicans say his middle name reminds them of Saddam Hussein while the Democrats say that King Hussein of Jordan was American an ally.
In short, if Harriet Beecher Stowe’s success in the 19th century is an accurate indicator, Hillary may well hum right along to victory in acquiring her party’s nomination. However, if Hussein’s string of successes continues to hover like an ominous victory cloud over Clinton’s camp in their hunt for the Hill, as President he might say to her one day: “It was a hard fought battle Hillary. Now that it’s over, maybe you should take a cue from Harriet and go write a book.”
Dr. Firpo Carr n can be reached at 800.501.2713 or