It should come as no surprise to anyone that the National Newspaper Publishers Association – the organization representing the nation’s 200--plus black-owned newspapers -- named Barack Obama as the winner of its Newsmaker of the Year Award this week.
It was a no-brainer. Not since the time of Martin Luther King has any African-American made as much news as Senator Obama.
Given the ill-concealed race and gender issues raised during this nomination contest, it is possible Mr. Obama has mixed feelings about this award. There are many who will simply see it as further confirmation that he is the African-American candidate – not the candidate of all the people. And doubtless, some of his opponents will attempt to frame it that way.
Politicians will do what politicians do – anything to win.
For me, however, this award has a deeper meaning. Because it takes me back more than forty-five years to a time when the Obama phenomenon would have been unthinkable.
The year was 1950. I was a cub reporter for Daytona Beach, Florida, News-Journal, a remarkably progressive daily newspaper.
After some months, my editors assigned me to run their two-reporter County Seat Bureau, located in a small town called Deland. I knew something about Deland because I had done my undergraduate work there at an institution blessed by the Southern Baptists.
Located in the heart of the central Florida redneck bible-belt, Deland was what most sociology textbooks at the time described as the most corrupt county in the United States. It was largely controlled by the Coca Cola Company and the Florida East Coast Railroad.
The News-Journal gave me the grand title of Bureau Chief. My beat was what my managing editor called C&C – Cops and Courts. I covered the local police, the county sheriff, and the county court.
For a young Yankee reporter from New York, the experience offered an eye-opening – and terrifying – glimpse into the abyss of the Jim Crow south.