February 11, 2012 4:29:00 PM
SPECIAL TO THE DISPATCH
Barack Obama is president today, thanks to more votes from whites than any other African-American political candidate in U.S. history.
The 2008 election answered political pundits who had questioned whether a black candidate could receive enough white support to reach the nation's highest office.
While he is the most well-known example, Obama isn't the first minority politician to win office with strong support from white voters.
In a forthcoming book, Starkville historian Dennis S. Nordin presents nearly a dozen case studies of elected African-American leaders who won various offices because of strong support by the majority.
"From Edward Brooke to Barack Obama: African American Political Success, 1966-2008" uses a wide sample of elections to explore race in American politics. With an April release date, the 264-page book is being published by the University of Missouri Press.
A Chicago native, Nordin is a retired adjunct faculty member of Mississippi State University's history department. An MSU master's and doctoral degree graduate, he also has taught at the University of West Alabama and Bryant University in Rhode Island. His bachelor's degree in history was completed at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn.
He said the idea to compare African-American political experiences across several levels of office first occurred while he was researching Arthur W. Mitchell's 1934 congressional campaign. Of particular significance in that race was the question of white support that appeared to depend on the candidate's avoidance of "minority" issues while in office, Nordin explained.
For a cross section of experiences, Nordin's latest effort provides case studies of Tom Bradley, mayor of Los Angeles; David Dinkins, mayor of New York; Freeman Bosley Jr., mayor of St. Louis; U.S. Sen. Edward Brooke of Massachusetts; U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois; U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma; and Gov. L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia, among others.
In 1990, Wilder became the first African-American to serve as a state governor.
From his analyses of these individuals and their contributions, Nordin concludes that elections involving people of different races in the U.S. still haven't transcended the race issue. Of the cases he researched, black candidates who won elections made intentional efforts to run as "race neutral," he observed.
"Once they were in office, they tended to be reelected if they maintained that color neutrality," Nordin said. "But if they took interest in black issues, they weren't reelected."
In addition to "The New Deal's Black Congressman: A Life of Arthur Wergs Mitchell (University of Missouri Press, 1997)," he has written four other books.
For more information, contact Dr. Nordin at 662-617-0515 or [email protected]
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