Howard University history professor Edna Greene Medford said President-elect Barack Obama’s historic victory is “a symbol” to blacks, but “we don’t expect much because we know we’re not going to get much.”
A Lincoln historian, Mrs. Medford said Mr. Obama, like Lincoln, is offering hope but black voters are “smart enough to know” that the 44th president is only one man and his election “does not mean that life is going to get better for me.”
Mrs. Medford made her comments, which were disputed by Obama transition team officials, during a heady meeting of the Trotter Group of black columnists at Howard.
Her colleague, 20th-century historian Daryl Scott, echoed the sentiment that Mr. Obama “ran a campaign on helping the middle class;” not the poor, who disproportionately are minorities and women.
“There will be nothing done for the poor in the name of the poor, nothing done for blacks in the name of blacks,” Mr. Scott said. “Obama will do what Lincoln did - give them nothing but freedom.”
What can the divergent constituencies that provided victory for the first black U.S. president expect in return for their loyalty and votes? Exactly how will an Obama administration bridge the “great divide” and pull Americans together despite their differences?
Mrs. Medford pointed to early signs that an Obama Cabinet will not represent “change.” She looked at the people in the president-elect’s inner circle and noted that “his four key advisers are white men.” So she doesn’t expect the Cabinet will be any different.
However, Valerie Jarrett, Mark Alexander and Michael Strautmanis - all key black advisers to Mr. Obama - insisted otherwise.
“As should be no surprise to anyone in this room, [Mr. Obama] would like his Cabinet to be diverse, both in terms of race, in terms of perspective, in terms of party, in terms of geography,” Mrs. Jarrett said.
Mr. Alexander said the Obama campaign and transition team will capitalize on the movement by continuing to use social networking tools to bring people with a common goal together for future community improvement projects.
He said the Obama victory was not about electing one man but about starting a movement “to change the way things are done” in Washington.
But he repeated a ditty circulating among blacks since the election: “Rosa sat, so Martin could march, so Obama could run, so our children could fly.”
Mr. Strautmanis rattled off a number of minorities and women as possible picks for the Obama Cabinet - attorney Cassandra Butts, foreign policy adviser Susan Rice, educator Christopher Edley Jr., former deputy attorney general Eric Holder, AOL executive Richard Parsons and Gen. Colin L. Powell, to name a few.
“African-Americans can expect a role model in a family that is raising children [and] help with the economy, which means more jobs,” he said of the goals of the Obama administration.