Cover image for Bill Clinton and Black America
Bill Clinton and Black America
Wickham, DeWayne.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Ballantine Books, [2002]

Physical Description:
vii, 310 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
"Featuring an exclusive interview with former President Bill Clinton."--Cover.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E886.2 .W53 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
E886.2 .W53 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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While white Americans were evenly divided about Bill Clinton's impeachment ninety percent of African-Americans opposed it. Now from a founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists comes a groundbreaking new book that explores the deep and unique connection between the former president and the black community--in the words of journalists, celebrities, academics, and other thoughtful Americans. Going well beyond mere TV punditry, luminaries such as Dr. Mary Frances Berry, Bill Gray, Kweisi Mfume, and Alice Randall, as well as ordinary citizens, offer insight into why African-Americans for the first time saw themselves in the soul of a president--Whether it was the large African-American presence in his administration, his perceived legal persecutions, his personal style, or his lasting yet tumultuous marriage--and why that kinship has sweeping cultural implications. Bill Clinton's actions, associations, and essence are all analyzed in light of their effect on and appeal to this crucial constituency. Much-awaited and long overdue, Bill Clinton and Black America features fascinating, provocative interpretations of the special relationship between the black people and this extraordinary man who, when his presidency ended, moved his office from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue--White America's most famous address--to Harlem's 125th Street--the heart of Black America. From the Hardcover edition.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Wickham, a columnist for USA Today, explores the favorable, even warm view that most African Americans have of former president Bill Clinton. His ratings among African Americans remained high even in the aftermath of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Wickham looks at the historical context of Clinton's popularity among blacks by examining their relationship with previous presidents, including the long loyalty to the Republicans because of Abraham Lincoln and then the switch to the Democrats with Franklin D. Roosevelt. Drawing on interviews with a cross section of African Americans--including Mary Francis Berry, Bill Gray, Kweisi Mfume, and Alice Randall--Wickham presents a view of Clinton as someone who has shown compassion and appreciation for African Americans. Wickham also explores Toni Morrison's commentary that one reason for the strong right-wing opposition to Clinton was his status as an outsider from the wrong side of the tracks, a status that made him, in effect, the nation's first black president. That position resonates throughout this fascinating look at American politics, racial issues, and the life of a controversial president. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

The first black president: "single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas" was how Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison described Bill Clinton. And, indeed, Clinton enjoyed his highest rating with blacks even when his popularity was at its lowest. This collection of short pieces and interviews with Clinton, edited by USA Today columnist Wickham (Woodholme: A Black Man's Story of Growing up Alone), gathers a wide variety of black professionals, politicians and intellectuals addressing the myriad issues on which African-Americans engaged with the president. Terry Edmonds (Clinton's director of speech writing) captures the heart of this relationship in his statement, "for Clinton, black America was never an afterthought." Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint was troubled by Clinton's attack on Sister Souljah "for being anti-white," but was still won over by the president's appointments of black judges, cabinet and subcabinet members, and by his attendance at black churches and singing of hymns. The collection is at its best when it mixes personal anecdotes (law professor Mary Frances Berry telling Clinton jokes during a Black History Month dinner) with substantive analysis, as when William H. Gray III of the United Negro College Fund reports on helping Clinton revise his disastrous Haitian refugees policy. While a great deal of the material here states the obvious (actor/producer Tim Reid's statement that "he's given the black people something that no one has given them at this point: hope"), what comes through again and again is the manner in which his black constituency felt well represented by Clinton. (Feb.) Forecast: Clinton's current Harlem base of operations is just one more gesture of solidarity with the African-American community. But with the former president's political role in flux, this book's main audience will be those wanting a walk through the 1990s' White House domestic policy making as well as the African-Americans and many others with cases of Clinton nostalgia. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

As a founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists, USA Today columnist Wickham is well suited to the task of deconstructing the Clinton presidency from an African American perspective. Eschewing a straightforward narrative of those eight years, Wickham instead takes on Clinton from three angles: "Bill Clinton, In His Own Words," featuring interviews with and speeches by the former President on black issues; an appendix of "Clinton Administration Black Appointees," including ambassadors, staff, and judicial appointees; and an excellent collection of brief (two-three page) statements from a wide variety of black intellectuals and journalists on Clinton's appeal to black voters. This section will be extremely valuable to researchers, as the voices range from average individuals to cabinet members to celebrities, such as actor Tim Reid and attorney Johnnie Cochran. As the only major book to appear on this topic to date, Wickham's is an essential purchase for all academic and public libraries. Highly recommended. Anthony J. Adam, Prairie View A&M Univ. Lib., TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



CHAPTER 1 The Past as Prologue It was a moment that has been replayed in Harlem many times. A favorite son of black America, an icon of the struggle for black empowerment in this country and elsewhere, a kindred soul of the descendants of the diaspora that slavery foisted upon Africa was center stage on 125th Street. But this time it wasn't Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Julius Nyerere, or Adam Clayton Powell Jr. who spellbound a crowd on black America's most famous thoroughfare. The man thousands of people in Harlem turned out to see on the mild summer afternoon of July 30, 2001, was William Jefferson Clinton, the forty-second white man to serve as president of the United States and the only one to delight in being called the nation's first black president. More than any other person who has occupied the Oval Office, Bill Clinton has a special bond with blacks, a relationship that fueled his decision to move his postpresidential office to Harlem. When his presidency ended in January 2001, Clinton's approval rating among whites was in a free fall, but his standing among blacks was sky-high. Eighty-seven percent of African Americans and just 45 percent of whites viewed Clinton favorably in the weeks before his second term as president ended, a poll conducted by researchers at Harvard University and the University of Chicago revealed. But to fully understand Clinton's appeal to blacks you must first juxtapose him to the forty-one men--from George Washington to George Bush--who preceded him in the presidency. It is impossible to explain Clinton's popularity with African Americans without first probing the relationship that blacks have had with this nation's long line of chief executives. Eight of the first fifteen presidents of the United States were slave owners. George Washington, who commanded this nation's fight against British tyranny, owned hundreds of slaves. Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson were also slaveholders. And so too were James Madison, James Monroe, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, and James Polk. With the possible exceptions of John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams, all the men who served in the White House before the election of Abraham Lincoln campaigned for the office as pro-slavery candidates. None of these presidents publicly opposed slavery during their time in the White House. Lincoln, the nation's sixteenth president, is widely--but mistakenly--credited with ending slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation he issued on January 1, 1863, granted freedom only to those slaves in states and territories under control of the rebel government of the Confederacy. His act was meant to end the Civil War by disrupting the South's labor pool and to use antislavery sentiment in France and Great Britain to keep those nations from intervening on the side of the Confederacy. It was not intended to shut down the "peculiar institution" that had existed in this country since 1619, the year before the Mayflower dropped anchor at Plymouth Rock to deliver the Pilgrims from religious persecution in Europe. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to any slaves held in areas that remained loyal to the Union, including those in the nation's capital. Lincoln left no doubt of his true intentions in an August 22, 1863, letter to Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune who used his newspaper to agitate for an end to slavery. An editorial in the paper several days earlier had questioned where the president stood on the issue of emancipation. "As to the policy I 'seem to be pursuing' as you say, I have not meant to leave any doubt," Lincoln wrote Greeley. "I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be 'the Union as it was.' If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that." Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation followed his third option. Slavery throughout the United States actually wasn't ended until the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution was ratified on December 6, 1865. Eleven years later, Frederick Douglass--who had met with Lincoln several times to make the case for black emancipation--gave a chilling assessment of the Republican president in a speech to a largely black audience. "It must be admitted, truth compels me to admit, even here in the presence of the monument we have erected to his memory, Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits and thoughts, and in his prejudices, he was a white man," Douglass said at the dedication of a memorial to the former president. He was preeminently the white man's president, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country . . . To protect, defend, and perpetuate slavery in the states where it existed Abraham Lincoln was no less ready than any other president to draw the sword of the nation. He was ready to execute all of the supposed guarantees of the United States Constitution in favor of the slave system anywhere inside the slave states. He was willing to pursue, recapture, and send back the fugitive slave to his master, and to suppress a slave rising for liberty, though his guilty master were already in arms against the government. The race to which we belong were not the special objects of his consideration. Douglass said of the man many historians call "the great emancipator." Of the eight presidents that followed Lincoln into the Oval Office during the remaining years of the nineteenth century, three, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, and William McKinley, were classified as "white supremacist" by University of Michigan professor Hanes Walton Jr. and San Francisco State University professor Robert C. Smith in their book American Politics and the African-American Quest for Universal Freedom (New York: Longman, 2000). One president, Chester Arthur, was ranked as "racially neutral" and two others, Rutherford B. Hayes and James Garfield, were labeled "racially ambivalent." Only two presidents, Ulysses S. Grant and Benjamin Harrison, were categorized as "antiracist" in the authors' analysis of the racial attitudes of U.S. presidents. Grant's good ranking is probably due in part to the fact that in 1869 he became the nation's first chief executive to appoint an African American to a major diplomatic position when he named Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett minister to Haiti. Twenty years later, Harrison became the second president to do so when he appointed Frederick Douglass charge d'affaires to Santo Domingo and minister to Haiti. In the thirty-one years from the start of the twentieth century to the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932, nearly 1,600 African Americans were lynched in the United States. Three years before the new century began the Supreme Court made "separate but equal" the law of the land with its decision in the Plessy v. Ferguson case. The ruling epitomized the nation's retreat from the advances made by the newly freed slaves during Reconstruction. It came at a time when whites in the former Confederate states were moving aggressively to plunge African Americans into a state of neoslavery. Between 1898 and 1910 hundreds of thousands of black southerners were forced off the voting rolls and racial discrimination and segregation were etched into law and social practice throughout the South. Blacks who resisted these oppressive changes often ended up hanging from the end of a lynch mob's rope. None of the twentieth century's early presidents--not Republican Theodore Roosevelt, whose Rough Riders' charge up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War was supported by the more battle-tested black "Buffalo Soldiers," nor Democrat Woodrow Wilson, whose election in 1912 was backed by a group of dissident black Republicans--did anything to stop these attacks on the rights and lives of African Americans. If anything, these early twentieth-century presidents gave aid and comfort to those who carried out these brutal assaults. Roosevelt surely fueled the passions of those who believed African Americans were unworthy of the benefits of citizenship when he accused the black troops that fought in Cuba of cowardice, despite the fact that five of them were awarded the Medal of Honor, this nation's highest military award for bravery in combat. Roosevelt showed his contempt for black soldiers--and his willingness to pander to white bigotry--in another way. When some members of the Twenty-fifth Infantry were accused of going on a drunken shooting spree in Brownsville, Texas, that left one white man dead and two others including the police chief injured, Roosevelt ordered an investigation. When the culprits were not discovered, he had all 167 black enlisted men in the unit--including five Medal of Honor winners--given administrative discharges, an action that precluded them from ever holding a civil service job or receiving a military pension. (Sixty-six years later the Department of Army reversed that action and awarded all of the men honorable discharges.) Between 1901 and 1912, neither Roosevelt nor his handpicked successor, William Howard Taft, did much to enforce the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, or Fifteenth Amendments, which were passed in the wake of the Civil War to guarantee the rights of African Americans. Their callous indifference to the widespread oppression African Americans suffered during their time at this nation's helm caused some leading black activists to break with Republicans and back Democrat Woodrow Wilson's presidential bid in 1912. Wilson assured his black supporters that he wanted to see "justice done to the colored people in every matter; and not mere grudging justice, but justice executed with liberality and cordial good feeling." As these black activists quickly learned, Wilson lied. Once in office Woodrow Wilson purged black Republican appointees in the South and replaced them with white Democrats. He segregated federal agencies in the nation's capital and elsewhere and delighted in telling "darkie stories" to his White House guests. Wilson's mistreatment of African Americans angered W. Monroe Trotter, who along with W. E. B. Du Bois broke ranks with black Republicans to support the Democratic Party's presidential campaign. Trotter, Harvard University's first black Phi Beta Kappa and publisher of the Boston Guardian, headed a small delegation of Wilson's black supporters that met with the president on November 6, 1913, to express their disappointment with his administration's bad treatment of African Americans. Wilson assured them "it will be worked out." But instead of getting better, the Wilson administration's treatment of African Americans got worse. On November 12, 1914, Trotter led another group of African Americans in a White House meeting with the Georgia-born Wilson. "One year ago we presented a national petition, signed by Afro-Americans in thirty-eight states, protesting against the segregation of employees of the national government whose ancestry could be traced in whole or in part to Africa, as instituted under your administration in the treasury and post-office departments. We then appealed to you to undo this race segregation in accord with your duty as president and with your pre-election pledges. We stated that there could be no freedom, no respect from others, and no equality of citizenship under segregation of races," Trotter told Wilson. "Only two years ago you were heralded as perhaps the second Lincoln, and now the Afro-American leaders who supported you are hounded as false leaders and traitors to their race. What a change segregation has wrought!" Trotter said. When Wilson suggested that racial segregation in federal offices was meant to help African Americans by relieving them of their "dependence upon the white element of our population," Trotter struggled to contain his anger. "Now, Mr. President, this is a very serious thing with us. We are sorely disappointed that you take the position that the separation itself is not wrong, is not injurious, is not rightly offensive to you," he said sharply. Wilson responded that if this "organization wishes to approach me again, it must choose another spokesman." The group didn't return--and Wilson never retreated from his efforts to segregate the federal workforce. In the years leading up to the 1932 presidential election, black frustration with the Oval Office occupants grew. The three Republican presidents who followed Wilson into the White House worked mightily to court the votes of white southerners and to hold black voters--then the Republican Party's most loyal constituency--at bay. The trickle of black support that W. E. B. Du Bois and W. Monroe Trotter produced for Woodrow Wilson in 1912 (about 7 percent) increased dramatically in 1932 when the next Democratic president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was elected. Roosevelt won nearly 30 percent of the black vote. Shortly before the 1936 presidential election Roosevelt appointed Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of the National Council of Negro Women and president of Bethune-Cookman College, director of the Office of Negro Affairs in the National Youth Administration. Bethune, the first black woman to receive a presidential appointment, was a key member of the "black cabinet." This loose-knit group of midlevel black appointees--whose members included Pittsburgh Courier editor Robert L. Vann, Howard Law School dean William H. Hastie, and Robert C. Weaver, who two decades later would become the first black cabinet officer--reversed the political ostracizing African Americans suffered at the hands of Franklin Roosevelt's Democratic predecessors and sparked a mass exodus of black voters from the Republican Party. Seventy-one percent of African Americans cast their ballots for Roosevelt in 1936; the first time a majority of black voters had not supported the GOP's presidential candidate. In 1940, Roosevelt won 67 percent of the black vote, and in 1944 he got 68 percent of the ballots cast by African Americans. During Roosevelt's presidency the number of black federal workers increased nearly 300 percent. But Roosevelt's record on racial issues was far from spotless. In 1934, he wouldn't back an antilynching law because he feared that outraged southern lawmakers would retaliate by derailing his New Deal legislation. And while he barred discrimination in federal employment, he did little else to end racial segregation during his time in the White House. Excerpted from Bill Clinton and Black America by DeWayne Wickham All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.