Bankole: History will vindicate Obama, Detroiters say

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

Despite the fierce opposition to his presidency and the unprecedented level of attacks he endured during his eight years in office, some Detroit seniors say history will be kind to Barack Obama who exits the White House Friday.

They say these accomplishments during the Obama administration — his signature domestic policy, the Affordable Care Act, which has made insurance available to more than 20 million people; the killing of terrorist Osama bin Laden, responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks of the Twin Towers in New York City; legislative and judicial rulings guaranteeing marriage equality, and the lack of any personal scandals during his White House years — will be viewed as positives for the outgoing president down the line.

“If they tell that truth, history will have to be kind to him. I was not surprised he got re-elected because he had an agenda that was for every one. He did not have a color coded agenda,” said Thoris Walton, 72, a retired educator who worked for two decades in the Detroit Public Schools.

Walton, who was raised in Brighton, Alabama, when segregationist George Wallace was governor of that state, said she prayed for an Obama victory on the night of the 2008 election.

“I was with my daughter in Ohio watching TV and praying that Obama wins,” Walton said. “Because of what I lived through, I did not think at first there would be a black president. But as I grew older and wiser, I saw the possibilities and the opportunities for a black person to win.”

Walton added, “He came into office with his hands tied behind his back by Congress and the economy was messed up. He was able to pass health care because people need it.”

Willie Burden Jr., 74, a retired deputy chief of the Detroit Police Department who spent almost 36 years with the agency, said the sweep of Obama’s record in office and what he called “his ability to avoid the highway of indifference and intolerance and making people feel welcomed by saying the White House is the people’s house,” will be a plus for Obama decades from now.

Burden, whose mother was volunteering for Obama’s campaign in 2008 until she died of a heart attack before the election, said he never believed that he would live to see a black man elected president.

“I can’t describe the feeling I had as an older person to see him take the reigns of office. But his presidency shows that there is hope. It may not come immediately but if you push and struggle your goals could come to fruition,” Burden said. “This is the lesson for our young people because Obama came from virtually nowhere to become president.”

Walter Willis, 75, a retired postal worker, said he also did not expect America would elect a black man for president who would go on to serve two terms.

“Many people don’t understand the impact he had on us as African-Americans and the country as a whole,” Willis said. “This eight-year duration was a period of pride. Fifty years ago the strength of the black race was family. He showed us the importance of family.”

Obama was criticized by some in the black community for not doing enough to advance progress for African-Americans.

“Certain criticism that came out of the black community were not asked of other previous presidents,” Willis said, adding that the demands on Obama were misplaced because they were made by his critics who did not subject his predecessors to the same expectations.

Annie Tait McGadney, 87, a child of the South who moved to Detroit in 1951, said seeing the election of the first black president and being around to see that presidency end was a triumph of faith.

“I am grateful to God that at 87 years old he allowed me to live to this day. This era will be remembered as an exception,” McGadney said. “Because of his record in office, it is impossible to hide it all. We must tell the truth.

“There was a time when we say you can’t do this because of your color. But now I know there is hope.”

And how should succeeding generations remember the Obama era?

“This was an eye opening eight years and young people can learn that Obama persevered and stood up in the face of adversity and made a difference,” Walton, the retired school teacher, said.

Twitter: @bankieT

Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson” on Super Station 910AM weekdays at noon. His column appears Mondays and Thursdays.