What If President Obama Were Latino?

One writer says that he might be accused of not being Hispanic enough.

President Barack Obama (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Judging from reactions to remarks by the president and first lady during separate commencement speeches recently, I have to imagine that it’ll be a bit of a bummer for Hispanics if a Latino is ever elected president,” Esther J. Cepeda wrote for the Washington Post Writers Group.

“I don’t particularly care for Barack Obama’s politics, but I hate seeing him ripped for not being ‘black enough,’ not giving blacks enough favor or enough credit.

“In the days since Obama addressed Morehouse College graduates, he’s become a Bill Cosby figure, labeled a finger-wagger for using his time in front of one of the largest gatherings of young, elite African-American males to restate his belief in the power of hard work and personal responsibility.”

She added, “Yet I can easily see that if a Hispanic were to be elected president, similar attacks by Latinos on such seemingly self-evident expressions of character would further confuse a non-Hispanic population that’s already mixed up about who Latinos are and what they believe in. . . .”

Jack White, the Root: Obama at Morehouse: Try Another Listen

James Hawkins, Ex-FAMU Dean, Dies at 64

James E. Hawkins, who retired last year as dean of School of Journalism & Graphic Communication at Florida A&M University, died after a heart attack Monday in Macon, Ga. He was 64.

“He was traveling back from Atlanta this afternoon and decided to stop and have an early dinner with a former student in Macon, Georgia,” Kim Godwin, senior producer at CBS News and former interim director of FAMU’s Division of Journalism, posted on the school’s site.

“We all know that is just one of the reasons we loved Doc. He kept in touch with all of us and made us feel special. He texted the former student at 3:18 to say he had arrived, but when he had not come inside the restaurant by 3:30, she went outside to look for him and found him unresponsive in his car. When EMT’s arrived, he could not be revived and was pronounced dead at a local hospital.”

The former dean’s wife, Leon County, Fla., Judge Judith Hawkins, “asks that we give her at least a day to grieve with her close family and to make arrangements to get the Dean’s body back to Tallahassee. Memorial service arrangements will be made shortly afterward. Judge Hawkins says she is thankful that he left this life doing what he loved to do and she’s thanking God that he was not driving when it happened. She asks for your prayers and support. In lieu of flowers, she’s asking all of us to give donations to the James E Hawkins Endowed Scholarship fund at FAMU. More information about how to give is forthcoming.”

Hawkins had been with Florida A&M for 34 years and spent eight of them as dean of the School of Journalism & Graphic Communication.

He was named in 2004 to succeed founding dean Robert Ruggles and was only the second dean at the school, one of the leading journalism schools at a historically black college. Ruggles started the journalism program in 1974 and became dean of the new school in 1982.

In 2010, Hawkins was named Educator of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists. In 1990 the National Conference of Editorial Writers awarded him its Barry Bingham Sr. Fellowship for an educator who has promoted diversity.

“Dean Hawkins has chartered the School through many successes,” the NABJ announcement said in 2010. “Some of his recent accomplishments include seeing its student chapter, FAMU-ABJ, clinch the 2008 NABJ Student Chapter of the Year, as well as sharing the joy of FAMU Alumnus Kathy Y. Times winning the election as being named NABJ President in 2009 and FAMU journalism student Georgia Dawkins’ successful bid for NABJ Student Representative.

” ‘As a former student of Dr. Hawkins, I can attest to his remarkable and unwavering commitment to making sure journalism students succeed and excel in a competitive profession,’ said NABJ President Kathy Y. Times. ‘He has made it a priority to send FAMU students to NABJ conventions and conferences for more than 20 years. I’m proud to call him a mentor and a dear friend to NABJ.’ “

More background on Hawkins’ website.

National Association of Black Journalists: NABJ Mourns the Loss of Former Journalism Educator of the Year Dr. James Hawkins (May 28)

Tallahassee Democrat: Former Florida A&M journalism dean James Hawkins dies in Georgia (May 28)

On Memorial Day, Connection to Freed Slaves Is Muted

The origins of Memorial Day are not foremost in mind for those who think primarily of a long weekend, barbecues, flags and parades. Besides, there are competing claims for the title of “first,” and a 1966 presidential proclamation gave the distinction to Waterloo, N.Y.

Historian David W. Blight of Yale University, however, has awarded the title to Charleston, S.C., and to freedmen who were paying homage to Union troops. Although Blight brought this revelation to light in his 2001 book, “Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory,” and wrote about it in the New York Times and elsewhere, the African American connection has yet to pervade the national consciousness, social media alerts Monday notwithstanding.

On Memorial Day, that was true even in the Charleston news media. Cleve O’Quinn, night editor of the Post and Courier, the city’s daily, was in charge of the newsroom on Monday. Asked whether the newspaper recognized the city’s role in the celebration, O’Quinn replied by email, “We have nothing regarding that scheduled for Wednesday’s paper. And I’m sorry, but our research staff is off for the holiday.”

The local tie-in didn’t make WCIV-TV’s list of “Memorial Day events and deals around the Lowcountry.

“The media is very habit-ridden,” Simon K. Lewis, who teaches African and Third World literature at the College of Charleston, explained by telephone. “They do certain things on Memorial Day. It takes a long, long time to nudge consciousness along.”

Last year, Blight was present as the city installed a marker on the old Washington Race Course, site of the Decoration Day in question. Next year, Lewis said, he hopes to celebrate the event as part of the Jubilee Project, continuing the 150th anniversary commemoration of the Emancipation Proclamation, or perhaps along with the 50th anniversary of desegregation milestones. He’d like to match the 10,000 attendance recorded at the original event.

Blight’s discovery wasn’t news to everyone. He sought and received confirmation from local historian Damon Fordham, Lewis told Journal-isms. Here is how Blight described his findings in a 2011 piece for the New York Times:

For the earliest and most remarkable Memorial Day, we must return to where the war began. By the spring of 1865, after a long siege and prolonged bombardment, the beautiful port city of Charleston, S.C., lay in ruin and occupied by Union troops. Among the first soldiers to enter and march up Meeting Street singing liberation songs was the 21st United States Colored Infantry; their commander accepted the city’s official surrender.

“Whites had largely abandoned the city, but thousands of blacks, mostly former slaves, had remained, and they conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war.

“The largest of these events, forgotten until I had some extraordinary luck in an archive at Harvard, took place on May 1, 1865. During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the city’s Washington Race Course and Jockey Club into an outdoor prison. Union captives were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand.

“After the Confederate evacuation of Charleston black workmen went to the site, reburied the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, ‘Martyrs of the Race Course.’

“The symbolic power of this Low Country planter aristocracy’s bastion was not lost on the freedpeople, who then, in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged a parade of 10,000 on the track. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing ‘a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before.’

“The procession was led by 3,000 black schoolchildren carrying armloads of roses and singing the Union marching song ‘John Brown’s Body.’ Several hundred black women followed with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantrymen. Within the cemetery enclosure a black children’s choir sang ‘We’ll Rally Around the Flag,’ the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ and spirituals before a series of black ministers read from the Bible.

“After the dedication the crowd dispersed into the infield and did what many of us do on Memorial Day: enjoyed picnics, listened to speeches and watched soldiers drill. Among the full brigade of Union infantrymen participating were the famous 54th Massachusetts and the 34th and 104th United States Colored Troops, who performed a special double-columned march around the gravesite.

“The war was over, and Memorial Day had been founded by African-Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration. The war, they had boldly announced, had been about the triumph of their emancipation over a slaveholders’ republic. They were themselves the true patriots.

“Despite the size and some newspaper coverage of the event, its memory was suppressed by white Charlestonians in favor of their own version of the day. From 1876 on, after white Democrats took back control of South Carolina politics and the Lost Cause defined public memory and race relations, the day’s racecourse origin vanished. . . . “

David W. Blight blog: “The First Decoration Day”

Stanley Crouch, Daily News, New York: Honest imagery, saluting sacrifice

Jim Downs, Huffington Post: Who Invented Memorial Day? (May 2012)

Colbert I. King, Washington Post: Memorial Day deserves better

Darryl E. Owens, Orlando Sentinel: Taps for man’s lost WWII cousin brings closure

Jerry Large, Seattle Times: Memories that make history real

Campbell Robertson, New York Times: Birthplace of Memorial Day? That Depends Where You’re From  (May 2012)

Bob Ray Sanders, Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas: Words of American poet have special meaning in time of mourning

Barry Saunders, News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.: Children of Civil War veterans bring history to life

Undercover Journalists Stung by Syria’s Chemical Weapons

Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have repeatedly used chemical weapons against rebel fighters in Damascus, according to first-hand accounts in France’s Le Monde newspaper,” Ingrid Melander reported Monday for Reuters.

“The newspaper, in a report issued on its website on Monday, said one of its photographers had suffered blurred vision and respiratory difficulties for four days after an attack on April 13 on the Jobar front, just inside central Damascus.

“Assad’s government and the rebels fighting to oust him have accused each other of using chemical weapons. U.N. investigators have been ready for weeks, but diplomatic wrangling and safety concerns have delayed their entry into Syria.

“Undercover in and around the Damascus area for two months alongside Syrian rebels, a Le Monde reporter and photographer said they had witnessed battlefield chemical attacks and had also talked to doctors and other witnesses of their aftermath.

“They describe men coughing violently, their eyes burning, their pupils shrinking. . . .”

Three weeks ago, President Obama said he would act against Syria if it were proved that the Assad government uses chemical weapons, David Jackson reported May 7 for USA Today, “but he warned against precipitate action based on ‘perceptions,’ citing the Iraq war as a cautionary tale.

Obama promised in August 2012 that use of such arms by authorities in Damascus would constitute the crossing of a ‘red line’ that would lead to a foreign intervention in Syria against the regime, Le Monde recalled.

The Le Monde report, by Jean-Philippe Rémy in Jobar, Syria, began:

A chemical attack on the Jobar front, on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, doesn’t look like anything much at first. It’s not spectacular. Above all, it’s not detectable. And that’s the aim: by the time the rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army who have penetrated furthest into Damascus understand that they’ve been exposed to chemical products by government forces, it’s too late. No matter which type of gas is used, it has already produced its effects, only a few hundred meters from residential areas of the Syrian capital.

“At first, there is only a little sound, a metallic ping, almost a click. And in the confusion of daily combat in Jobar’s Bahra 1 sector, this sound didn’t catch the attention of the fighters of the Tahrir al-Sham (‘Liberation of Syria’) Brigade. ‘We thought it was a mortar that didn’t explode, and no one really paid attention to it,’ said Omar Haidar, chief of operations of the brigade, which holds this forward position less than 500 meters from Abbasid Square.

“Searching for words to describe the incongruous sound, he said it was like ‘a Pepsi can that falls to the ground.’ No odor, no smoke, not even a whistle to indicate the release of a toxic gas. And then the symptoms appear. The men cough violently. Their eyes burn, their pupils shrink, their vision blurs. Soon they experience difficulty breathing, sometimes in the extreme; they begin to vomit or lose consciousness. The fighters worst affected need to be evacuated before they suffocate. . . .”

Reporters Without Borders: German freelancer held by Assad regime (May 14)