Winning the black woman vote

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 16, 2007

When I lived in Jackson, Miss., just after college I attended Jackson Primitive Baptist Church. It was there I met a woman who was a great influence in my life during that time.

She was an ultra-conservative housewife raising five children while her husband worked, often times traveling for weeks at a time.

When it came to politics, Susan and I rarely saw eye-to-eye. (This was Gore vs. Bush time. I lost.)

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But in religion, her interpretation was also far more conservative than mine, especially when it came to the role of women. She felt like a woman should not work (unless it was a necessity), should not vote and should not hold a leadership position of any kind.

The thing is, Susan did vote.

And there are thousands of women just like Susan: conservative women who hold to the belief that women should not be in a place of leadership, such as President of the United States.

Sen. Hillary Clinton will have to answer to that constituency, probably more so in the primary against Sen. Barack Obama than the general election. And in the primary, one of the most conservative voting blocks will be black women.

It kills me to hear people relate &8220;liberal&8221; to &8220;black&8221; when it comes to politics. We know this grew out of racial politics in the deep South and over time has evolved to become &8220;truth&8221; among many people.

The real truth is that most black communities are rooted in the church and hold to very conservative values. In the black community, even moreso than in the white community, the church is more than just a house of worship. It&8217;s a small community unto itself, a meeting place and an extension of a communal identity.

One of my professors from Millsaps College wrote a paper tracing the role of the church in the black community.

His central idea was the struggles of blacks in the early 20th century led black people to take solace in the church, where they could organize as a people under the protection of religion &8212; so far as they could be &8220;protected&8221; in those days.

That instinct evolved over time, and the church has grown to be a central hub in the black community. It is more than a house of worship. During election years, it is a must-visit stop on the political circuit.

In short, if you run for political office and want to reach the black community, you have to visit black churches.

The perceived &8220;liberal&8221; tendencies from black voters come, if from anywhere, from not wanting to limit the freedoms of others.

As a people, they have seen this done to them and their ancestors in the worst way.

It&8217;s not so much a social liberalism as it is a &8220;live and let live-ism.&8221;

Poll after poll after poll shows that the social tendancies of blacks are as conservative &8212; if not moreso on some issues &8212; as your typical white social conservative voter.

The difference &8212; and this goes back to live and let live &8212; is what makes many progressives a progressive: They do not want government deciding their fate.

That may be in the form of gay marriage and abortion &8212; two things that poll highly unpopular among a vast majority of black voters &8212; or in the form of higher taxes on necessity items, such as groceries.

When you take these voting tendancies into consideration, it makes for an interesting dichotemy for black voters &8212; especially black female voters &8212; when considering Sens. Clinton and Obama.

Clinton will have a hard enough time winning the black vote against Obama, despite the fact that she is, on average, leading the Illinois senator among black voters in most polls. (She can thank former President Clinton for these numbers.)

But now, she has one thing more against her: Will conservative black women vote for a woman to be president?

A New York Times article last Sunday looked at this question, particularly in South Carolina where, like here in Alabama, the primary is early and crucial.

While Clinton is gathering up the support of many black leaders throughout South Carolina, Obama&8217;s people are using a grassroots effort targeting hair salons, churches and other established congregation points in the black community.

Here&8217;s what Miss Clara, a beauty shop owner in South Carolina, had to say about Clinton:

The article is a good read, and it points to an interesting question that Clinton will face with female voters &8212; black, white, Hispanic or otherwise.

It also looks at a fear among the black community if Obama was to be elected: that he would be assassinated. It may seem silly to some, but it is still a real fear among some black voters, especially in the South.

In the end, I hope protecting a black man by not voting for him and not voting for a woman because women should not be leaders will not carry the day.

I hope voters will choose based on integrity, experience and ideas.

Sam R. Hall is editor and publisher of The Times. He can be reached by e-mail to