Bernard Anderson, a pathbreaking African-American economist, understands the importance of rhetoric. He was up front at the Lincoln Memorial when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963. And he was in the audience on the Howard University campus in 1965 to hear President Johnson deliver a grim view of the state of black America and declare war on "past injustice and present prejudice."
So Anderson had high hopes as he sat at home in Pennsylvania watching President Obama deliver his second Inaugural Address this year. He wanted Obama to acknowledge that even five decades after Johnson's stirring oration, African-Americans in today's America still struggle against discrimination. And when the president started talking about "We, the people," the veteran civil-rights champion grew excited. "As he was going through "˜We, the people' and "˜We, the people,' my heart started to beat," Anderson said. But just as fast, his spirits sank. "I didn't find me among the people he was talking about."
Eleven days later, Anderson — an early supporter and fundraiser for Obama, an Obama delegate in 2008, and an expert on economic disparities who has been called to the Obama White House several times — allowed himself to vent his frustration and call for more high-level attention to the black community's economic challenges.
"I do see this president as one who now is ready to lay out a legacy." — Avis Jones-DeWeever, National Council of Negro Women
Grumbling that he had heard "not a single blessed word on race" in the Inaugural Address, Anderson told attendees at the fourth annual African-American Economic Summit at Howard, "I believe now is the time for the president to find his voice, summon his courage, and use some of his political capital to eliminate racial inequality in American economic life." To applause, he added, "We cannot let the president off the hook in the second term. Black people gave him a pass in the first term.... He is not going to run for anything. He doesn't deserve a pass anymore."