Remember black 'patriots' and vote


CRISPUS ATTUCKS, killed in the Boston Massacre of 1770, typically is the only one mentioned in classrooms, and even that is rare. But other colonial African Americans fought for what became the United States at the beginning of the rebellion against the British that we call the Revolutionary War.

In 1775, one stalwart who helped Paul Revere warn Massachusetts that the Redcoats were attacking was Abel Benson, who awoke the town of Needham with blasts from his trumpet. Prince Estabrook fought bravely at the Battle of Lexington. And at Bunker Hill, militiaman Salem Prince fired the shot that killed Maj. John Pitcairn, one of the crown's best commanders.

So what does all that have to do with the presidential election of 1996. Only this: African Americans are searching for reasons to participate in this election between an incumbent who is reluctant to talk about racism and a challenger who now believes it is best for him to attack affirmative action.

Maybe an appeal to patriotism will get African Americans to the ** polls. They sure aren't being attracted by the candidates. I know, African Americans aren't really thought of as patriotic, even among themselves. For a long time a lot of my friends wouldn't take off their caps during the "Star Spangled Banner" at ball games. But there was a reason.

After fighting bravely in the Revolution and the Civil War that set the slaves free, African Americans served this nation as soldiers and sailors in two world wars and a host of lesser conflicts only to come home to treatment generously regarded as second-class.

By the time of the black-power movement of the late 1960s, many African Americans were refusing to openly show respect for a nation that they felt showed them very little.

That attitude persists among a younger generation of blacks who never endured segregation but see the disparity between their poor inner-city schools and neighborhoods and those enjoyed by mostly white kids in the suburbs. Getting those young people and their elders to go vote may not be so easy in places where there isn't a good congressional or local race to bring them out.

8 percent turnout

For example, only 8 percent voted in a special election in April to replace former Congressman Kweisi Mfume in Maryland's mostly black 7th District. With the same two running against each other Tuesday -- black Democrat Elijah E. Cummings, who won handily last time, and white Republican Kenneth Kondner, who doesn't have a chance -- the turnout may not be much better.

Indeed, the prognosticators are predicting low voter turnout across the nation, somewhere between 51 and 55 percent. The black vote will be less than that; only 37 percent turned out in 1994 and no one is predicting more than a 5 percent increase to cast ballots for president.

Jesse Jackson has been criss-crossing the country trying to stoke the fires for President Clinton within the black electorate. Bob Dole had hoped he could get Colin Powell to do the same thing for him. But Mr. Powell has done little. The general must have known that if things got desperate, as they have for Mr. Dole, the former Kansas senator would resort to anti-affirmative action rhetoric to stanch the bleeding among the GOP faithful.

Of course, more important than whom African Americans vote for is that they do vote, unless they want to be totally disregarded by the major parties.

If they can't find a candidate who moves them to vote, they should vote because men and women died for their right to cast a ballot. Not just soldiers and sailors. Others marched and fought and died to make America a better nation for future generations. They were all patriots.

=1 Harold Jackson writes editorials for The Sun.

Pub Date: 11/02/96

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