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The Circle of Life: From Tubman to My Father to President Obama to Me (Excerpt from “Letters to My Black Sons: Raising Boys in a Post-Racial America” Apprentice House, 2015)

August 29, 2013

“President Obama could have closed the circle with visit to Tubman House: A Commentary”

The Harriet Tubman home 180 South Street Auburn, NY 13201

By Karsonya Wise Whitehead (Originally published 8/27/2013 on

     In 2006, when Barack Obama first ran for president, I was an enthusiastic supporter. I campaigned for him, spoke at community centers, visited homes and used the very tiny platform that I had to sing his praises. Even though I had started the year as a Hillary Clinton supporter, I was captivated (as were many others) and hopeful that the election of a black man was going to be the answer to Dr. Martin Luther King‘s dream. Unlike my grandmother who thought he was some type of a Messiah, I did not believe that he could walk on water, heal the sick, end racism or reduce the national debt by any significant amount. At the same time, I did believe his rhetoric and I thought that change would come. I believed that he was going to be a compassionate leader who would do everything he could to remind us that we are all in this struggle — to make our world a better place — together.

At that time, when I voted for him, I was not just voting for myself. I was voting for all of my ancestors who never saw the end of the American enslaved system and who died before Brown v. Board of Education was decided. I was voting for my grandfather who died before Obama became the Democratic candidate and for my grandmother who never had a chance to experience the joy that comes from having a black man sitting at the center of the American political system. I was voting, in some ways (and in my mind) to try and right some of the wrongs of the past.

     The second time he ran, I was a reluctant supporter. I was unimpressed with his first term and I was no longer moved by his rhetoric. My vote for him was actually a vote against his opponent. I still believed in change but I knew from work during his first term that real change takes a very long time and perhaps, in my lifetime, it may never come. As I have borne witness to how his second term has unfolded, I have become more and more jaded about the direction of this country, his true intentions, and the deep rooted feelings of racism that have been brought to light since he first took office. Even though I know that one person, no matter how powerful he is, cannot change the world (I remove people like Jesus Christ, Dr. King, and Gandhi from this equation, as one could easily argue that their actions did indeed change the world.), the president does set the tone for our nation. Every time he makes a public appearance, whether it is at an anti-violence rally in Chicago or at a beer tent in Iowa, it gives us insight into what he thinks are the most important issues at that time. When he focuses his attention on something or someone, the world glances at it, as well.

Excerpt from “Letters to My Black Sons: Raising Boys in a Post-Racial America” (Apprentice House, 2015)

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