Rev Irene Monroe

Cornel West calls Obama out for dissing King tribute

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | April 08, 2008 5:03 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, Cornel West, Martin Luther King Jr.

While presidential hopefuls McCain and Clinton trek to Memphis on April 4th to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., was Obama's absence due to political inconvenience or personal smugness?

As the candidate running on a "post-racial" platform that best exemplifies King's "I Have a Dream" speech that hoped this nation would one day "not judge us by the color of our skin, but rather by the content of our character," Obama's absence was troubling to many in the African American community, especially of the civil rights era.

Most noted was Cornel West, the renowned Princeton University professor, public intellectual and author of the bestseller Race Matters. West is not only one of Obama's strongest supporters, but West is also one of Obama's political advisers.

Upset that Obama did not pay his respects to the historical significance of the day, West posted his sentiments, "On Obama Not Going to Memphis," on The Huffington Post.

I want to say that I'm deeply disappointed that my dear brother Barack Obama decided not to go pay tribute and lay his wreath for the great Martin Luther King, Jr. That brother Martin's profound love and deep sacrifice for black people, America and humanity is in no way reducible to political calculations, even for the campaign for presidency. That Martin Luther King Jr.'s deep commitment to unarmed truth and unconditional love can in no way be subject to strategies for access to political power.


Was this a public backhand slap from West signaling to the public, as well as to Obama, his concerns about Obama's calculated ambitions to the White House?

Or, as many Obama supporters in the African American community are now speculating, is there both a personal and ideological rift between West and Obama?

Given West's prominence and respect in the African American community nationwide, the Obama campaign knows if West breaks publicly from the campaign he'll take a substantial portion of black voters away from Obama come November (if Obama wins the Democratic nomination).

Having won the majority of African American voters in the Tennessee primary, Obama may have felt he did not need to come back to the state to do face time.

But black talk show radios were abuzz with listeners calling in expressing their disappointment.

Tavis Smiley, one of America's most celebrated and respected media personalities and author of the bestseller Covenant With Black America,
called into the Tom Joyner Morning Show. Smiley asked listeners if Obama's absence was another signal of Obama only courting the African American vote when it is political advantageous for him to do so.

But this charge against Obama by Smiley is not new.

When Smiley invited Obama to this year's State of the Black Union, an event held annually during Black History Month and broadcast on C-Span, Obama declined but offered to send his wife Michelle. The event gathers a "Who's Who" of black intellectuals, pundits, activists, entertainers and politicians to discuss and brainstorm where black America is and where it is headed. And this year it was held in New Orleans to remind the American public of the Bush administration's unfinished business with its displaced citizens from Hurricane Katrina. This year's topic was "Reclaiming Our Democracy, Deciding Our Future." But Obama declined, stating he needed to continue his bid for the presidency. And in an open letter to Tavis Smiley, Barack asked Smiley to reconsider the invitation to let Michelle stand in for him.

I especially commend you for hosting this dialogue in New Orleans. On the eve of the Louisiana primary, I visited this great city for the fifth time since declaring my candidacy to share policy proposals for rebuilding the Gulf Coast so that we never experience another Hurricane Katrina. On February 9, I was deeply humbled to win the Louisiana primary with 86 percent of the African American vote and a 14 point lead among all voters who said they were adversely affected by Hurricane Katrina...

I understand that you have declined the campaign's request to have Michelle Obama speak on my behalf. I ask that you reconsider."

But Smiley, like many black New Orleans and now Tennesseans, feel that since Obama has won their votes he didn't need to show up in their state again.

Obama recognizes, however, that his bid for the presidency is made viable because of the civil rights movement and King, whom he did not have the time to stop for and pay tribute to.

"So don't tell me I don't have a claim on Selma, Alabama. Don't tell me I'm not coming home to Selma, Alabama. I'm here because somebody marched. I'm here because you all sacrificed for me. I stand on the shoulders of giants," Obama stated in his March 2007 address commemorating the Selma Voting Rights March.

And as this country's first legitimate black candidate for the White House, "Obama is virtually a third civil rights movement, the manifestation of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream. His candidacy has produced a fervor in black America born of centuries of wanting. Nearly every black vote that Clinton thought was hers at the beginning of the race has been siphoned by Obama, Darryl Fears stated.

And in Obama winning our votes, he must also hear and heed to the moral imperative and hurt expressed by West:

"I have a very deep disagreement with my dear brother, Barack Obama -- in this case, commitment to truth is in tension with the quest for power"

Otherwise, we must wonder, if Obama can diss King, what manner of man do we have here?

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Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | April 8, 2008 6:49 PM

"Was Obama's absence due to political inconvenience or personal smugness?"

Although I'm an Obama supporter, I don't follow some of the more detailed developments and interactions you set forth, but I was initially puzzled as to why he chose not to be in Memphis for the observance. One distinct possibility in my view could have to do with security. I've personally been reluctant to even talk about the subject because of a fear of self-fulfilling prophecy, but no doubt there are some deranged minds who would see a phenomenal amount of symbolism in a tragic repeat of an event 40 years after another rising leader spoke there.

Astute readers will notice that Rev Irene often employs the indefinite pronouns "some" and "many" to advance an argument that is clearly her own.

You know who else does this? Fox News.

And Cornel West's, apparently, Kevin.

John McCain actually went to the hotel in Memphis where King was shot and said that he would have supported continuing the War in Iraq. Yes, he actually said that.

I think that's a bit worse than actually being physically present at the site or not.

Senator Barack Obama's remarks on the anniversary of Dr King's assassination :

A discussion of reactions to Cornel West's criticisms of Obama :

I'm a bit surprised to see this "story" only now being posted on Bilerico when it was on Huffington days ago :

It seems any reason for Rev Monroe to find further fault with Senator Obama is a good one.

Check out "Who Died and Made Tavis King" for an additional prespective on the ongoing Tavis Smiley / Cornel West hostility toward Obama :

West's support of Obama has been conflicted at best.

Well McCain also said he messed up for voting against the MLK day holiday.Which is what made the news for that day.

This is sort of like Eva Peron being pissed off because Queen Elizabeth invited her to Windsor Castle instead of Buckingham Palace --- the egos involved start out over-inflated or the tiff would never arise in the first place. Recall that Peron declined Queen Elizabeth's invitation, just as Tavis Smiley declined Michelle Obama speaking to his Black Union event last February. (See blog links supplied by "belovedcountry" above.)

I hesitate for anyone to set up conventions saying "You have to do this-and-that or you're not being black enough." I didn't travel to Memphis last Friday either, but that doesn't mean I'm a racist.

In March 2000 I went to a Tavis Smiley book signing in Long Beach, California. In his comments that day, Tavis remarked about several African-American authors, including the comment that some are easy to read, and some, like Cornel West, "have to be read with the book in one hand and a dictionary in the other." (That's as close to an actual quote as I can give you.) So, I gather, in those days Tavis regarded Cornel as an academic icon. Now, today, they're buddies --- they hang together on weekends.

There's nothing wrong with this, but my point is that there's a lot more going on here than what the surface facts indicate. Obama was invited onto Tavis's PBS show back when most Americans didn't know what an Obama was --- it might also be that Tavis thinks Obama is being ungrateful. The bottom line is that, today, Cornel and Tavis need Obama more than Obama needs Cornel and Tavis, and that might be what Cornel and Tavis are actually unhappy about.

Well, as much as I like both Cornel and Tavis, they should get over it and let Obama schedule his time and run his campaign as Obama sees fit, remembering that Obama doesn't have to answer to them, and shouldn't.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | April 9, 2008 3:59 AM

This is another nail in the coffin of the theory of the lesser evil, that mysterious creature that shows up at every election. The creature can be seen howling and ranting in a desperate effort to convince people that they live in a democracy and that their vote means something more than a fart in a hurricane.

But it doesn’t. We have no real choices. McCain is a prowar candidate of the rich who opposes our equality agenda on the grounds of political expediency. Hillary Clinton is a political clone of McCain. She ardently supports the war, NAFTA and tax cuts for the rich. Her campaign manager Barney Frank successfully dumped all GLBT bills before congress so the Republicans couldn’t accuse the Democrats of being pro-GLBT. As if.

Obama is a clone of Hillary Clinton who’s running as fast as he can to distance himself from the idea that his politics embodies the equality agenda of African Americans. When the robust antiracist, antiwar, anti-zionist attitudes of Rev. Wright offended racists Obama dumped him on national TV. He declined to go to Memphis for the same reason. In fact the only people he seems comfortable being associated are gay bashing vermin like Donnie McClurkin and Mary Mary.

Of course he’s been pushed to distance himself by the race baiting and muslim baiting of the Arkansas Dixiecrat and the Goldwater Girl, who says, on the question of whether or not he’s a muslim “No. No, there is nothing to base that on. As far as I know.” Unfortunately race baiting works. According to an article in 365GAY older, rural and Southern whites who take race in account vote for Clinton, not Obama. “’We'd be foolish to say it's not a factor,’ Harvey Gantt, an Obama supporter who lost two senatorial races against Republican Jesse Helms in North Carolina in the 1990s, said of race. So far, the outlook for November is unclear. A poll last month by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center showed Clinton and Obama both trailing likely GOP nominee John McCain among whites by under 10 percentage points, but some expect Obama's race to be telling.”

The whole article is interesting reading and can be linked to at

Yes, after posting above I had an afterthought which Bill alludes to above: Obama avoiding Memphis might have been very calculated, intended to give less progressive white voters the subliminal message, "See, I'm running to be a President for everybody, I don't necessarily buy in to all the [over-blown to less progressive whites] African-Amercan hoopla."

And if this is the case, then Cornel and Tavis are playing into his hand by complaining, explicitly adding public media distance between Obama and the group that Jimi Izreal referred to as the Popes of Blackness.

If anyone dissed the King tribute, it was John McCain being there.

here's a man who couldn't be bothered to show up for a Republican forum that Tavis Smiley organizaed last year, has 'F''s on rhe NAACP Civil Rights Report card and voted against the King holiday to boot.

And you Shillary supporters wanna gripe about Obama being in Fort Wayne IN?