Excitement over the election of Barack Obama as the country's first black president should not mislead Americans into thinking that the country has solved its "problems of race," a prominent historian warned yesterday at a conference commemorating the 100th anniversary of the NAACP's founding.
"I think in a year's time, we will begin to hear voices of discontent from elements of Obama's own constituency," David Levering Lewis told the modest audience during a question-and-answer session after his keynote speech at Johns Hopkins University.
Lewis, a professor at New York University, wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of W.E.B. Du Bois, who in 1909 helped establish the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Lewis called it "masterly" the way Obama avoided presenting "African-American issues as African-American issues" during last year's presidential race and instead campaigned on the idea that "a rising tide lifts all boats."
But Lewis noted that there are "rather specific disabilities that afflict people of color" and predicted that the president will lose support if he does not tackle those effectively.
"Both from a bully pulpit perspective as well as from the point of view of an economic agenda," Lewis said, "the non-address of those [issues] will cripple what he hopes to accomplish."
The daylong session featured panel discussions on topics such as the role played by women in the civil rights movement and the NAACP's ties to campaigns for equality in other countries.