12/08/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Will Obama Punish African-American Clinton Supporters?

The Rev. Jesse Jackson may have cried on election night when it was announced that Barack Obama won the election, but last summer, the legendary civil rights activist once suggested that he'd like to cut the senator's nuts out -- for "talking down to black people." Rev. Jackson is among a generation of civil rights leaders that has had a rocky relationship with America's first African-American president, prompting journalist Matt Bai to explore, in an August issue of the New York Times Magazine, whether Obama is the end of black politics. But Jackson, a former presidential candidate himself, never waffled in his official support of the young Ivy League politician, about whom Time magazine once asked, is he black enough? It was Obama who kept his distance from Jackson. Now, Jackson's son, Jesse Jr., who condemned his father's "nuts" remark, will likely seek Obama's vacant Chicago senate seat -- all the makings of a cozy family friendship.

Other civil rights leaders and black politicians were not as supportive of Obama in the Democratic primary. In February, I wrote a City Room blog for the New York Times after following Rep. Charles Rangel on a tour of black and Latino churches in his home district of Harlem. He was stumping for Hillary Clinton. An African-American whose father was Puerto Rican, Rangel was working to prevent an African-American of mixed race from winning the American presidency on Nov. 4. The audiences clapped, but a little sheepishly. In a recent interview with Big Think, Calvin Butts, the pastor of Harlem's famous Abyssinian Baptist Church, reminded me of all the African American leaders -- too many to list here -- who refused to support Barack Obama in the Democratic primary. He was one of them. And when you watch this clip, you'll see he had compelling reasons for supporting "The Clintons."

Now that an old Clinton bruiser, Rahm Emanuel -- Rahmbo -- will serve as the take-no-prisoners Hyde to Obama's across-the-isle Jekyll, what will be the fate of those black leaders who did not support now President Obama? Will they be extended the same White House invitations enjoyed during the Clinton administration? By election day, African-American support for Obama was near universal. But Rahmbo isn't famous for forgiving his enemies. And Obama's selection of the brash Chicago congressman as his consigliere may imply that tough Chicago politics is bracing for a national heyday.

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