A quick shout-out to my li’l sister, who edits the always-interesting Oxford University Press blog. Today she published a moving and fascinating essay by Henry Louis Gates Jr. (I’m told his friends can call him “Skip”)on Barack Obama’s historic victory last night. Although the emotional highlight of the essay is his description of his 95-year-old father’s amazement at Obama’s election, there is also a thorough and serious review of, “Who could ever have imagined something like this?”
The answer it turns out, is Jacob Javits —
The award for prescience, however, goes to Jacob K. Javits, the liberal Republican senator from New York who, incredibly, just a year after the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, predicted that the first black president would be elected in the year 2000. In an essay titled “Integration from the Top Down” printed in Esquire magazine in 1958, he wrote:
“What manner of man will this be, this possible Negro Presidential candidate of 2000? Undoubtedly, he will be well-educated. He will be well-traveled and have a keen grasp of his country’s role in the world and its relationships. He will be a dedicated internationalist with working comprehension of the intricacies of foreign aid, technical assistance and reciprocal trade. . . . Assuredly, though, despite his other characteristics, he will have developed the fortitude to withstand the vicious smear attacks that came his way as he fought to the top in government and politics . . . those in the vanguard may expect to be the targets for scurrilous attacks, as the hate mongers, in the last ditch efforts, spew their verbal and written poison.”
In the same essay, Javits predicted both the election of a black senator and the appointment of the first black Supreme Court justice by 1968. Edward Brooke was elected to the Senate by Massachusetts voters in 1966. Thurgood Marshall was confirmed in 1967. Javits also predicted the election to the House of Representatives of “between thirty and forty qualified Negroes” in the 106th Congress in 2000. In fact, 37 black U.S. representatives, among them 14 women, were elected that year.
All in all, Sen. Javits was one very keen prognosticator. And when we reflect upon the characteristics that Javits insisted the first black president must possess—he must be well-educated, well-traveled, have a keen grasp of his country’s role in the world, be a dedicated internationalist and have a very thick skin—it is astonishing how accurately he is describing the background and character of Barack Obama.